Late Summer Wildlife: Daddy-long-legs

The most conspicuous spider in your backyard is probably not a spider at all. Most often known as the daddy-long-legs, these long-legged critters are more closely related to mites than spiders.  They are members of the Harvestman (Opiliones) order. Unlike spiders, they have two eyes and a head, thorax and abdomen, which are fused together.

Harvestmen are most common in late summer, around harvest time, which is likely the source of their name.  In days gone by, people believed Harvestmen could help find lost cattle – just pick one up by all the legs except one and the free leg points to the direction where the cattle could be found.

However, you want to handle Harvestmen carefully or not at all because their long, long legs fall off very easily. Thought to be an adaptation to help escape predators, the Harvestmen’s seven-jointed legs serve as ears, nose, tongue and perhaps even eyes, making the loss of even one leg a serious situation.

Finding Harvestmen in your garden is good news. These are beneficial predators that eat a wide range of pesky critters, including aphids, beetles, flies, mites and remnants of dead plants. In turn, they are eaten by birds, spiders and insect predators such as assassin bugs.

Harvestmen are one of three completely different arthropods nicknamed daddy-long-legs: Cellar door spiders (true spiders), Crane Flies (insects) and harvestmen (arachnids but not spiders). All three are subject of a wide-spread urban myth that says daddy-long-legs are the most poisonous animal in the world, but are not dangerous because their mouth is too small to bite humans.

In fact, Harvestmen are beneficial predators that have neither venom nor fangs. Crane Flies are not venomous and the Cellar door spider’s venom is harmless to humans, as demonstrated by Mythbusters a few years ago (which you can view below).

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