Kenyon Kritters: Daddy Longlegs
Warning: The following is semi-educational and contains pictures of creepy crawlies, so arachnophobes and sophophobes be warned. Also, corny dad humor, for obvious reasons.
Hello, fellow humans! It’s your friendly neighborhood nature nerd, early bird, rhyming word from across the river at the BFEC. I’m here to bring you the news from the wild, wild west, and to tell you about the world outside 3rd floor Olin. Trust me, it exists and it’s really quite beautiful.
Today, I have a little bone to pick with you.
It’s late at night and all you really want is to crawl in bed and conk out for a few hours, but you can’t because there is a THING crawling up your wall and it’s all legs and it’s moving so fast and AAAH AAAH it’s climbing on my face AAAH I HATE SPIDERS SO MUCH
Well, those “things” that you find scrambling along your desk or over your foot when you’re sitting in the Adirondack chairs on Peirce Lawn, those beauties with 8 long spindly legs and cute button bodies ARE NOT SPIDERS.
This is not a spider.
Repeat. This is NOT a spider.
These are daddy longlegs and they’re actually more closely related to scorpions than spiders. Daddy longlegs have their own order Opiliones within the larger class Arachnida, encompassing any creepy crawly with 8 legs and 2 body segments and NEVER to be confused with Insecta, another class of arthropods reserved for little beasties with 6 legs and 3 body segments. If you’ve ever called an 8-legged critter an insect or heaven forbid a ‘bug,’ I’m not mad at you, really. I’m just disappointed.
I know it’s an easy mistake, especially since many of you probably won’t go within 10 feet of a daddy longlegs voluntarily, but if you ever take a moment to get up close and personal with one, the distinction is obvious. First, unlike spiders who for some strange reason need 8 and sometimes 12 eyes, daddy longlegs only have 2 eyes. Also, their bodies are more oval-shaped because their head and torso regions are partially fused into one. How convenient!
Daddy longlegs are also completely venomless, prefering to munch their food with their chelicerae mouthparts. They aren’t picky eaters in the slightest and will crunch any soft-bodied thing that comes their way from aphids to beetle larvae to small spiders. These creepy crawlies are helping reduce the numbers of the other creepy crawlies, the ones who can actually hurt you.
Another big difference: they can’t produce any silk for web-weaving. I bet you feel pretty silly right now for ever mistaking daddy longlegs for their spider cousins, don’t you? How embarrassing. But they forgive you for screaming and fleeing in terror because those are just the kind of upstanding fellows they are.
No one really knows where their name came from, especially the questionable ‘daddy’ part. People speculate that it originated in Britain in the early 1800s when it was apparently common practice to call any tall man with long hind limbs a ‘daddy longlegs.’ Someone must have noticed the resemblance of these arachnids to dapper English gents and somehow the name stuck. I’m uncomfortable as well. The ‘longlegs’ half is more fitting because these creatures really are all legs. Each leg segment is equipped with a bunch of nerves and tiny microscopic sense organs that can taste, smell, and detect motion, vibrations, and even light. If your legs could multitask this much, you’d probably want a lot more of them too.
Daddy longlegs are also called harvestmen if that weirds you out any less because they’re most active in late summer and fall when the harvest season is at its peak. You’ve probably noticed that they are EVERYWHERE right now: hanging out on the underside of Adirondack chairs, moseying across newly-renovated Middle Path, swaggering up the walls of Caples. They’re out for some tasty snacks and a nice little place to reproduce and lay their egg sacs before winter. See, they’re just like us!
Despite what their name suggests, not all daddy longlegs are daddies. You can tell a true daddy by his longer legs and his smaller body size compared to larger, stubbier-limbed females. Daddies are in fierce competition for their ladies, and they’ll often engage in physical fights with each other to exert their dominance while the mommies stand off to the side rolling their eyes and muttering ‘men’ under their breath. Some mommies can even self-fertilize, no daddies required. Power to the ladies!
If after all this daddy longlegs are still an itsy bit too gangly for you, here are some ways to safely remove them from your dorm:
- Pick it up gently by 2 legs. It’s important to never grab just one because their legs do have a tendency to fall off unexpectedly. It’s a survival strategy for escaping predators but it’s also kind of a bummer since they can’t regrow lost limbs, which is why you often see them hobbling around on only 5 or 6 legs. Once you have it in your hand, calmly carry it outside.
- If you don’t want that gangly thing anywhere near your skin, take a cup or bowl, place it upside down over the critter when you can get it on a flat surface, then slide a piece of paper carefully under the cup. Slowly remove the cup from the wall with its paper lid on tight and voila, a handy little arachnid igloo! Go outside, set both paper and cup on the ground, and gently remove the cup to let your captive run free.
- Give me a shout. I will most certainly hike up from the BFEC at 2 am in my pajamas to help you capture the daddy longlegs on your ceiling if it will help you sleep better and help him find his way back into the great outdoors. The best method for contacting me is via owl or carrier pigeon- I pay attention to birds way more than I pay attention to my email.
Well sport, I’m so glad we had this little chat. *Ruffles hair* Now go do your homework.