42 Facts About Harvestmen or Daddy Longlegs That May Surprise You - Owlcation - Education
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42 Facts About Harvestmen or Daddy Longlegs That May Surprise You

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about living things.

A male harvestman (Hadrobunus grandis)

A male harvestman (Hadrobunus grandis)

Interesting Arachnids

Harvestmen are interesting arachnids. They are known for their long and spindly legs that make them look as though they're walking on stilts. Some people confuse them with spiders, which are also arachnids, but the two creatures are actually quite different animals. Despite rumors to the contrary, harvestmen are not dangerous to humans. They are intriguing creatures with some unusual features.

Harvestmen belong to the phylum Arthropoda, the class Arachnida, and the order Opiliones. They are also known as daddy longlegs or as granddaddy longlegs. Somewhat confusingly, cellar spiders and crane flies may also be referred to as daddy longlegs.

The table below summarizes the relationship between harvestmen, spiders, and insects. Spiders belong to the same phylum and class as harvestmen, but they belong to the order Araneae instead of the order Opiliones. Insects also belong to the phylum Arthropoda, but they don't belong to the class Arachnida and therefore aren't known as arachnids.

Arachnid and Insect Classification

AnimalsPhylumClassOrder

Harvestmen

Arthropoda

Arachnida

Opiliones

Spiders

Arthropoda

Arachnida

Araneae

Insects

Arthropoda

Insecta

Various

Santinezia serratotibialis, a harvestman in Trinidad

Santinezia serratotibialis, a harvestman in Trinidad

The order name Opiliones comes from the Latin word opilio, which means shepherd. Harvestmen reminded earlier people of European shepherds who walked on stilts to get a good view of their flock. The animals are sometimes referred to as shepherd spiders, though as explained above they aren't spiders.

Differences Between Harvestmen and Spiders

1. The body of a spider is composed of two sections that often look different from one another. The cephalothorax or prosoma is joined to the abdomen or opisthosoma by a narrow stalk, though the stalk may not be visible when a spider is seen.

2. The harvestman also has a cephalothorax and an abdomen. The union between them is not obvious, however, and they look the same. The body appears to consist of just one section.

3. A spider has three or four pairs of eyes, which are generally positioned at the front edge of the cephalothorax. A harvestman has only one pair of eyes, which are located on the top of the cephalothorax.

4. Most harvestmen have very long and spindly legs, but this isn't a foolproof way to identify them. Some have shorter and thicker legs. In addition, some spiders have long legs, though they aren't as long or as thin as those of a typical harvestman.

5. An urban legend says that harvestmen are the most venomous animals (or spiders) in the world. The reality is completely different. Unlike spiders, the animals don't have venom glands. In addition, the mouth and jaws, or chelicerae, are too small to do us much harm.

6. Harvestmen don't have silk glands and don't create a web. They do have glands that make a smelly secretion, though.

7. Harvestmen eat solid pieces of food. Spiders release digestive enzymes into their food and then ingest the liquid material.

8. The body of a typical harvestman is very small in comparison to the legs. The body is often no more than half an inch in length and is usually smaller.

The bunny harvestman of Ecuador has attracted people's attention due to its "rabbit ears". The animal's body reminds people of a dog's head as well as a rabbit. Two yellow spots on the body look like eyes, though they aren't the arachnid's actual eyes. The animal's appearance may be designed to scare predators.

Range and Habitat of the Opiliones

9. Around 6,500 species of harvestmen are known. Some scientists believe that there are likely many more in existence. The animals are found on every continent except Antarctica.

10. The greatest variety of daddy longlegs is found in tropical areas. Though most of the animals have dull colors, some have green, yellow, and/or red markings, especially in the tropics.

11. The animals are often found in humid places, such as in leaf litter, crevices, and caves and under rocks and tree bark.

12. According to the University of Kentucky, harvestmen are sometimes seen in the basements of houses. They may also be found in crawl spaces and in sheds and barns.

13. The name "harvestman" is derived from the fact that the animals are most often seen in late summer and early fall during the harvest season. They are visible during this season because it's generally the time when they mate.

The order Opiliones contains five suborders. Harvestmen are not widely studied. It's possible that some of the observed behaviors occur only in members of certain suborders.

Daily Life of a Harvestman

14. Harvestmen are often nocturnal, but some are partially or completely diurnal (active during the day). They dehydrate easily, so they often hunt briefly during the day and then go into hiding for a while.

15. The animals are omnivorous. They eat insects, spiders, mites, an occasional snail, and plant material. They are predators and possibly scavengers as well.

16. The pedipalps are short appendages that pick up food, manipulate it, and pass it to the mouth. They are located in front of the jaws, or chelicerae.

17. Researchers have discovered that in at least some harvestmen the tips of the pedipalps (or "feelers") have hairs that secrete a type of glue. This helps them to grab food.

18. The eyes of a daddy longlegs can detect the intensity of light, but the animals can't see images. They need the help of other senses to find their prey.

19. The animals have four pairs of legs, like a spider. The tips of the legs have multiple joints. They are covered with fine hairs and have a hook at the end.

20. The second pair of legs have sense organs and are used for probing the environment. They can detect vibrations and possibly certain chemicals. While many sources classify the second pair of legs as sensory appendages, a few say that the first pair of legs are more important for sensing the environment, at least in some suborders.

21. Harvestmen have been observed drawing their legs through their jaws to clean them. This behavior can be seen in the bunny harvestman video above and in the first image in the photo sequence above.

A harvestman is sometimes covered with what appear to be red, orange, or yellow dots. These are actually mites that are parasitizing the animal. Mites are another type of arachnid.

Defense Mechanisms

22. Predators of harvestmen include spiders, scorpions (which like mites are arachnids), amphibians, lizards, and birds.

23. Daddy longlegs have pores that release a secretion with a bad smell. The secretion probably makes the animals both smell and taste bad to predators. One pore is located at the base of each front leg.

24. A harvestman sometimes releases a leg from its body in order to distract a would-be predator. The behavior is known as autotomy. Unfortunately, the missing leg can't be regenerated, but the animal can often compensate for its deformity.

25. The detached leg twitches for a while, which probably serves to further distract the predator.

26. The upper part of the detached leg contains a region that acts like a pacemaker, stimulating the rest of the leg to move. A pacemaker is a body region that creates and maintains a rhythmic activity.

27. A common defense mechanism in at least some daddy longlegs is to freeze when a predator is detected and to stay motionless until the danger has passed. Since the arachnid is frequently brown or a dull color, this disguise often helps it to blend in with its environment.

28. Another defense mechanism shown by some species is known as bobbing. The animals vibrates rapidly, which appears to distract the predator.

Clustering Behavior

29. Harvestmen sometimes gather in large groups, which look like hairy clumps due to the closeness of the many sets of long and thin legs. The animals interlock their legs as they cluster.

30. The clumps may form to provide warmth and a suitable humidity for the arachnids.

31. They may enhance the effect of the odoriferous substance released by the individual animals in order to repel predators.

32. The cluster as a whole sometimes jiggles or moves from one place to another, which may confuse a predator.

Mating Behavior of Harvestmen

33. According to Kasey Fowler-Finn, a scientist who studies harvestmen reproduction, when a male and female find one another (by an unknown method), the male wraps his pedipalps around a female's sensory leg.

34. The male and female remain attached for seconds to several hours. There is some movement during the attachment period, though researchers don't know exactly what is happening. In at least one species, the male shakes the female's leg while attached. This may encourage her to mate again.

35. In some species, the male gives a female a "nuptial gift". The gift is a secretion from his mouth, which the female eats. This presumably stimulates mating.

36. Males have an intromittent organ, which extends from the male's body and enters the female's, delivering sperm. Fertilization is therefore internal.

37. Harvestmen are said to have direct fertilization because the sperm is transferred directly from the male's body into the female's. Spiders have indirect fertilization. The male spider first deposits sperm on a specially-woven sperm web. When a suitable female approaches, he picks the sperm up with a pedipalp and places it in an opening in the female's body known as the epigyne.

The video below shows two male harvestmen competing for the right to mate with a female. In some species, as in the one in the video (Leiobunum rotundum), the males are smaller than the females.

Reproduction

38. The female harvestman lays her fertilized eggs in soil, under tree bark, under leaves, or in another protected environment. She deposits them with a structure called an ovipositor.

39. The female may leave the eggs on their own, but in some species the female, the male, or both genders guard the eggs.

40. An egg hatches into a small version of the adult called a nymph.

41. A harvestman usually goes through six instars (nymphal stages) before adulthood is reached. The developing animal molts between each instar.

42. Like spiders, a harvestman has incomplete metamorphosis. The developmental stages look quite similar to the adult but differ in size.

A few species of harvestmen are parthenogenic. This means that the female can produce offspring without obtaining sperm from a male.

Exploring the Behavior of Daddy Longlegs

Harvestmen have some curious characteristics and are worth observing. The reproductive behavior of the animals is especially intriguing and has some puzzling aspects that need to be explained.

Some species of daddy longlegs that haven't yet been discovered may have even more intriguing behavior for us to appreciate. Hopefully, researchers will learn more about the features of the world's harvestmen in the near future.

References

  • Kentucky harvestmen facts from the University of Kentucky
  • Information about members of the order Opiliones from Ohio State University
  • The daddy longlegs page from the Missouri Department of Conservation
  • Beneficial harvestmen in the garden from Texas A&M University

© 2018 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 19, 2020:

Thanks for sharing the interesting story, Mike. I'm glad you rescued the harvestman!

Mike on July 19, 2020:

Hi Linda, very interesting, thanks. I went online to learn a little more about these critters after one ran from some plant cuttings I was putting into our green waste garden bin. It ran straight into a slider's web and got tangled so that about 6 of its legs were meshed in spider silk. I fished him out and, much to the amusement of my wife, used one of her bobble headed sewing pins to untangle him. This involves me catching a hold of the each thread of spider silk as he sat on the end of my finger and pulled each leg free. After this he was happily running around my hand until he was deposited on a plant and sat under a leaf for a while. And there was no nasty smells so reckon he was OK with some help!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 10, 2020:

Thank you very much for the kind comment, Dream On. Studying nature is a very interesting activity. I hope you have a great day as well!

DREAM ON on July 10, 2020:

You had me intrigued and fascinated right from the beginning. I don't mind bugs as long as they are outside not inside the house. You opened my eyes to these amazing little creatures. We have so much to learn about nature and thanks to you I learned more today about daddy long legs than I ever thought possible. Sometimes I am pretty creeped out when I walk into a spider web. Where is the spider I wonder? It is easy to think of them as a spider even though there not. Have a great day. So wonderful to share.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 06, 2020:

Thanks for the visit, Denise. I think they are intriguing animals.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on March 06, 2020:

I was intrigued. We often have them in the house in the summer months. I didn't realize all these facts before.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 03, 2020:

Thank you, Suchismita. I like harvestmen. I think they're interesting creatures.

Suchismita Pradhan from India on February 03, 2020:

Iam sure whoever will see this little creature definitely misunderstand it as a spider.Thanks for sharing this wonderful well researched article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 19, 2018:

Thank you very much for the comment, Suhail. I always take arachnids outside or somewhere else when a family member doesn't like them, too. I've done that ever since I was a child. I've never wanted them to be killed. They certainly would be fascinating subjects for macro photography.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on November 19, 2018:

Very well written article on daddy long legs, Linda!

I love arachnids so much so that if one comes inside home and my wife and/o daughter tell me to kill it, I would always pick it up ever so gently using a tissue and release it outside or somewhere safer.

Arachnids are on my mind for doing macro-photography too.

Thanks again for posting a reader friendly article.

Regards,

Suhail

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 12, 2018:

Thanks for commenting, Devika. Harvestmen aren't spiders, but they are very interesting creatures.

Devika Primic on November 12, 2018:

An interesting hub about such spiders. i read about it but not as much as you have written here. I am now more aware of the spiders as you have explained.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 11, 2018:

Thank you very much, Bede. I agree—it is intriguing that an apparently simple animal could have such complex features.

Bede from Minnesota on November 11, 2018:

Linda – thanks for a very educational article. These are assuredly surprising facts, especially that Daddy Longlegs aren’t spiders. It’s intriguing that such a simple creature should have so many complex characteristics, such as the quasi pacemaker in the leg and complex mating behavior.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 11, 2018:

Thank you very much for the comment, Genna. I hope you have a good week.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on November 11, 2018:

I've always viewed the Daddy Longlegs as a harmless little guy. But I had no idea they weren't spiders....maybe that's why. Thanks for this interesting article, Linda. Beautifully presented and researched as always.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 11, 2018:

Hi, Mary. I'm glad that I have natural and semi-natural areas near my home, but I'd love to live even nearer to them. Having a cottage like you do sounds like a lovely idea.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 11, 2018:

We have plenty of daddy long legs in the cottage but I have not really researched anything about them so I'm grateful you posted this here. I will observe them more next time.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 11, 2018:

Thank you, Dora. I hope the week ahead is a good one for you.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 11, 2018:

Glad to know that "the mouth and jaws . . . are too small to do us much harm" and I thought that they were spiders. Thanks for clearing that up and for supplying all the other interesting details.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 10, 2018:

Hi, Adrienne. Yes, coming across a cluster unexpectedly could be a shock! Clustering is an interesting behaviour.

Adrienne Farricelli on November 10, 2018:

Thanks for sharing all these interesting facts. Good to know they have ways to keep animals away from them. I don't want any dogs in my care messing with them. The clustering would give me a heart attack though!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 10, 2018:

Hi, Manatita. I think they're interesting creatures as well. I always enjoy watching them.

manatita44 from london on November 10, 2018:

An interesting creature. So few of them. Surprising. Some fascinating videos.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2018:

Thanks, Heidi! I hope you have a great weekend, too. Harvestmen aren't insects, though. I'm going to edit the article to explain this.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on November 09, 2018:

Ah, the complex lives of insects! Always an interesting read. Have a great weekend!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2018:

Thanks for commenting. I'd love to have a yard that borders a wood like you do. I haven't seen black harvestmen myself, but I have seen photos of ones that are mostly a dull black colour.

Dani Alicia from Florence, SC on November 09, 2018:

Interesting article. I often see what I though were daddy long leg spiders in my backyard because my yard borders the woods, but now I'm thinking that they're actually harvestmen. Can harvestmen be all black?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2018:

Hi, Peggy. Yes, the clusters are interesting. Like you, I've seen individual daddy longlegs, but I've never seen a cluster.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2018:

Fascinating article and that cluster of Daddy Longlegs was particularly intriguing. I have seen individual Daddy Longlegs but never a cluster like that.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2018:

Thanks for the visit and for sharing the information, Liz.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 09, 2018:

Interesting facts that I never realised. In the UK we call them Daddy longlegs.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2018:

Thank you very much, Readmikenow. I appreciate your visit and comment.

Readmikenow on November 09, 2018:

Absolutely fascinating. I really enjoyed learning about the Daddy Longlegs. So much I did not know.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2018:

Thank you, Bill. It is a bit confusing, since the name daddy longlegs is used for one spider. I think the "longlegs" term matches harvestmen very well.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on November 09, 2018:

Hi Linda. Another interesting hub. I was always under the assumption that the daddy long legs were spiders, so I learned something new today. The videos of the clustering are a bit creepy, but also fascinating.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2018:

Hi, Bill. I've never thought of that before, but you're right, they can be graceful creatures. Thanks for commenting, as always.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 09, 2018:

Hi, Pamela. I enjoy watching harvestmen in videos and in real life. I can understand why the long legs of the arachnids can seem creepy to some people, especially when the animals are in clusters, but I think the sight is interesting. Thanks for the visit.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 09, 2018:

I have always loved the Longleg....so graceful, or so they seem to me...and not icky like other spiders. lol

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 09, 2018:

Harvastmen are new to me but I remember being fascinated with daddy long leg spiders when I was young. I now know more than I ever thought I would about this topic, which wa actually very interesting. I have to say the videos creeped me out a little with all those spiders crawling around. Thanks for an interesting topic!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 08, 2018:

Thanks for sharing the interesting information, John. I enjoy learning about animals in other countries.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 08, 2018:

Thank you very much, Flourish. I think the harvestman is a fascinating animal.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 08, 2018:

This was very interesting, Linda. Daddy Longlegs are very common here in Australia, usually in houses close to the ceiling etc. I am not sure if they are the same as these Harvestmen though, and I have never seen them cluster.

I have heard it said that where you find Daddy Longlegs you never find Redbacks (Black Widows) but from my observation this is wrong.

Maybe they are one variety and I just haven't studied them up so close. Thanks for sharing.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 08, 2018:

I’ve never heard the term harvestman and didn’t know they can smell bad or are omnivores. Losing the leg voluntarily to ward off a predator and making it twitch as a distraction has to be the most surprising fact. Fascinating facts, Linda!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 08, 2018:

I appreciate your visit and comment, Jackie. Insects don't bother me, either, though I try not to annoy those that sting. I like harvestmen.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 08, 2018:

So interesting and the clump of daddy long legs was something else! I have always played with those unlike the spider and think they are so interesting and slightly different looking in different states, though I guess it could just be different kinds they all seem pretty agreeable and easy to handle.

I grew up with five brothers so bugs don't bother me.