Harvestmen are pulsing in a porch eave near youWith scorching temperatures outside, turning everything it touches a lovely shade of light brown, it’s difficult to imagine this is the beginning of harvest-time. For most of us it means the Harvestmen have arrived, although most of us call them Daddy longlegs.
Why we call them “daddy longlegs” is a mystery, in that the word “daddy” doesn’t have any historical meaning. The Native Americans called them “grandfather graybeards”. They’re even called “shepherd spiders” because of the way the male guards the female while she lays eggs.
Daddy longlegs aren’t really spiders, although they belong to the same class as spiders, Arachnida, which also includes scorpions, mites, and ticks. Over 6,400 species of Daddy longlegs grace the globe. The U.S. is home to about 100 species. Eighteen species live in Texas.
Pretty much anyone can identify a Daddy longlegs. They have fat, round, brown bodies with legs that can exceed six inches long. Proportionally, if the human torso was the size of a Daddy longlegs torso, the legs would extend forty to fifty feet. The legs have seven joints. The short front pair of legs is basically a three-jointed mouth with the third joint forming a claw. Small pincers under the claw grasp and tear food. They also use the pincers to fight other Daddy longlegs, and to clean their legs, which they do frequently.
The second pair of legs is the longest. These legs serve as antennae. When they are disturbed, they wave these legs around sensing their environment.
These long legs come in handy when a Daddy longlegs is trying to elude predators. They can easily detach their legs when they are grabbed by predators, like lizards can detach their tails. The detached leg can twitch for up to an hour to distract any pursuing predator. Daddy longlegs have two eyes on the top of their head, and can see items several feet away. Another interesting biological fact about Daddy longlegs is the pair of scent glands they have at the base of their first pair of legs. These scent glands emit a foul stench to ward off predators. They also use it to lay a clear trail for other Daddy longlegs to follow.
Unlike their cousins the spiders, Daddy longlegs have no silk glands, so they can’t spin webs. They also do not have fangs or venom glands, which means that Daddy longlegs are NOT the most poisonous spider in the world (1. They aren’t spiders. 2. They aren’t poisonous or venomous.), and since they don’t have fangs, they couldn’t even bite you if they were. “Fangs too small to bite” don’t count, as the brown recluse spider has very small fangs, and we all know what they do.
Daddy longlegs hatch in the spring, looking like tiny adults. They continue to molt every ten days until they reach maturity. It splits its body cavity and pulls itself out of the old skin, which takes about twenty minutes. By late summer they are ready to mate, which they do with wild abandon. Once the female is ready to lay her eggs, the male will stand over her as protection. She will lay hundreds of eggs, continually, until she herself becomes an empty shell.
Daddy longlegs are benefi- cial insect predators. They eat aphids, beetles, caterpillars, flies, mites, and slugs. They will even eat fecal matter, rotting vegetation, and fungi. Some people think that Daddy longlegs can find lost cattle. Just pick one up by seven of its eight legs. The free leg should point toward the cattle. Also, if you kill one, it’s supposed to rain the next day.
Gause-area resident Shawn Walton is a Texas Master Naturalist with the El Camino Real Chapter. Read more at http://grovesite. com/tmn/ecrmn