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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Creature Feature: Harvestmen/Daddy Longlegs.

Sometimes, people ask me about my pets. Along with my two cats, two birds, betta fish, and ten snakes, I sometimes add the colony of cellar spiders living in my basement. Most of the time, I don't get to the spiders- people are too stunned by my snake collection to really get there. They've always been interesting creatures to me, if only because they were one of the few weird things I always had access to in my basement.



No, that is not a daddy long legs. That is a cellar spider (Pholcus phalangioides). Cellar spiders are perfectly normal spiders with bulging abdomens, many eyes, and two distinct body segments.They shake in their webs when threatened and would probably make an interesting entry all by themselves.

THIS is a daddy long legs:



Daddy long legs, or harvestmen, are about as close to spiders as scorpions are. The 5,000-odd species comprise their own order, Opiliones. They have been around and virtually unchanged since the Devonian, a time period when fish were just beginning to get on land. As expected with something that has lived so long, these arachnids can be found virtually everywhere. There are even a few cave-dwelling species that would be excellent to cover in a troglobite week.

True daddy longlegs possess several anatomical differences from spiders. The two body segments of a harvestman are nigh-indistinguishable from each other. The legs are exceptionally long in most species. Harvestmen have only two eyes, not eight. Just about the only thing they have in common with spiders is their eight legs.



They even eat different things from spiders. While spiders eat bugs and occasionally birds, harvestmen can eat insects, plants, fecal matter, and any dead animals lying around. Exactly what they can eat depends on the suborder in question. Harvestmen have the most versatile diets of any arachnid group, even though they are relatively unarmed.

Harvestmen are harmless. Really. Despite being omnivores or scavengers, their chelicerae (very short fangs) cannot pierce human skin easily, let alone inject venom. They have no venom glands whatsoever. They do not even have silk like spiders. Don't listen to the BS about daddy longlegs being the most venomous creatures on the planet; even the copies are harmless.

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