The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Daddy Longlegs are Common in Summer
by Ro Wauer

Daddy longlegs, also known as granddaddy longlegs or harvestmen, have been around since early spring. But the young daddy longlegs, which emerged from overwintering eggs, hide under boards, rocks, and other objectives until they are fully-grown in summer. Not until then do they venture out into the open, appearing in our fields and gardens and in our barns and other structures, and we become aware of their presence. In fact, the harvestman name comes from their normal appearance during the summer harvest. In Europe, large numbers of harvestmen are considered signs of a good harvest, and it is unlucky to kill one.

Most often, daddy longlegs are lumped with spiders, but they actually belong to a unique family of arthropods known as Phalangiidae. They differ from spiders in that they have no constriction, or waist, between their front part and abdomen. Also, their legs are much longer than that of spiders. This gives them a rather awkward appearance. But they are able to move surprisingly fast when necessary. And they also have a strange habit of moving up-and-down, like of a springboard, when disturbed. Finding congregations of several dozen daddy longlegs moving up-and-down in unison can be unnerving.

Their eight legs seem extremely fragile, and they sometimes get entangled in cracks, weeds or whatever. But when that occurs, they simply discard the entangled leg and move on; they are able to grow a new one in no time. Their legs, however, are stronger than they appear.

Another major difference between daddy longlegs and spiders is their lack of silk glands. They, therefore, are unable to spin webs. Daddy longlegs feed on spiders, mites, and small insects, which they run down and capture. They also suck juices from soft fruit, vegetables, and decaying material. They general are active only at night. Plus, daddy longlegs lack poison glands of any kind; they defend themselves by emitting a foul odor.

There are about 200 kinds of daddy longlegs in North America, some with a three-inch leg span. But they all look basically alike. The females lay eggs in the ground, under rocks, or in crevices in wood prior to the first frost, and most do not survive the winter. Here in South Texas, some individuals make it through the winter by hibernating under rubbish and in other damp, warm locations. The survivors appear in spring, but they do not become commonplace until the new crop is out and about.

Although daddy longlegs may seem menacing at times, they are harmless, and generally good to have around. They have no bad habits!


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