You see daddy longlegs just about everywhere in the garden. Usually nocturnal, they are noticed more in the fall than any other time of year, thus the reason for their old name, Harvestmen, as they are more common at harvest time.
First of all, let’s straighten out one common misconception. The daddy longlegs is not a spider. How many times have you heard someone say that the daddy longlegs the most poisonous spider in the world but it simply cannot pierce the skin? Talk about urban myths! You really don’t need to be afraid of this little animal because it has no venom at all. Yes, you read that right. It is non-venomous.
It may look like a spider with its eight legs but if you look closely you will see that the daddy longlegs body does not have the segment separation like spiders have. Longlegs’ head, thorax and abdomen are fused into an oval body. Another difference, instead of spiders’ usual eight eyes, daddy longlegs have just two tiny weak eyes at the top of a small black stump atop the body. In addition, they cannot produce silk like spiders and they have chewing mouth parts unlike a spider that ingests only liquids.
Having set all that straight, the daddy longlegs is a member of the Class Arachnida along with ticks, spiders, scorpions, mites, centipedes and other kin. Spiders are a member of the Order Araneae and daddy longlegs are a member of the Order Opiliones, which is a closer relative to mites.
These harmless invertebrates do not damage plants. They are scavengers of dead insects, decayed matter and hunters of small insects like aphids. I often see them nibbling on spilled cat food on our deck in the evening.
The eyes of the longlegs are weak and cannot form images. Two of its legs contain thousands of sense organs and act as secondary eyes, ears, and nose for the longlegs. Hold your finger close to a resting animal and it will reach out and touch and explore your skin gathering information. However, if threatened, one of more legs will fall off. These legs continue to spasm allowing the longlegs a bit of time to escape. Another defensive mechanism for the daddy longlegs is the presence of two stink glands which release a pungent odor I experienced many times as a child!
An ancient creature, fossils have been found of the daddy longlegs that show the animal has remained unchanged for millions of years. It’s just another harmless, yet successful invertebrate in our gardens that we should take note of and learn about.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester