40 Facts About Harvestmen or Daddy Longlegs That May Surprise You

Updated on April 18, 2019
AliciaC profile image

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) | Source

Interesting Arachnids

Harvestmen are interesting arachnids 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 rumours to the contrary, harvestmen are not dangerous to humans. They are intriguing creatures with some unusual features.

Harvestmen are also known as daddy longlegs or as granddaddy longlegs. (Crane flies and cellar spiders are referred to as daddy longlegs as well.) They belong to the phylum Arthropoda, the class Arachnida, and the order Opiliones. 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. The table below summarizes the relationship between harvestmen, spiders, and insects.

Animals
Phylum
Class
Order
Harvestmen
Arthropoda
Arachnida
Opiliones
Spiders
Arthropoda
Arachnida
Araneae
Insects
Arthropoda
Insecta
Various
The two parts of the body can be clearly seen in this crab spider.
The two parts of the body can be clearly seen in this crab spider. | Source

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 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 that 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. 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.

Distribution and Habitat

8. 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.

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

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

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

12. 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, which is generally when they mate.

A macro photo of a harvestman (unknown species)
A macro photo of a harvestman (unknown species) | Source

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

Daily Life

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

14. The animals are omnivorous. They eat insects, spiders, mites, sometimes snails, and plant material. They are predators and possibly scavengers as well.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. Harvestmen have been observed drawing their legs through their jaws to clean them. This behaviour can be seen in the bunny harvestman video 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.

Defence Mechanisms

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

22. 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.

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

24. The detached leg twitches for a while, which probably serves to further distract the predator. The upper part of the leg contains a region that acts like a pacemaker, stimulating the rest of the leg to move.

25. A common defence mechanism of 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 colour, this disguise often helps it to blend in with its environment.

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

Clustering Behaviour

27. 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.

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

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

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

Mating

31. 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.

32. 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.

33. 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.

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

35. 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

36. 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.

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

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

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

40. 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.

More Facts to Discover About Daddy Longlegs

Harvestmen have some curious characteristics and are worth observing. The reproductive behaviour 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 behaviour for us to appreciate. Hopefully researchers will learn more about the features of the world's daddy longlegs 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

The weird mating habits of daddy longlegs from ScienceNews

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Crampton

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      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 and my dog profile image

        Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

        10 months ago from Mississauga, ON

        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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • profile image

        Devika Primic 

        10 months ago

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Bede le Venerable profile image

        Bede 

        10 months ago from Minnesota

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 

        10 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        10 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        10 months ago from The Caribbean

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

        10 months ago

        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!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        10 months ago from london

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        10 months ago from Chicago Area

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • madscientist12 profile image

        Dani Alicia 

        10 months ago from Florence, SC

        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?

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        10 months ago from Houston, Texas

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        10 months ago from UK

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Readmikenow profile image

        Readmikenow 

        10 months ago

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        10 months ago from Massachusetts

        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.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        10 months ago from Olympia, WA

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

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        10 months ago from Sunny Florida

        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!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        10 months ago from Queensland Australia

        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 profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        10 months ago from USA

        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!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        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 profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        10 months ago from The Beautiful South

        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.

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