Daddy Longlegs are quite fascinating. Equally fascinating are the false and misleading accounts regarding the nature of these creatures. Many of these accounts have been passed down from generation to generation with the validity rarely challenged. Do they have fangs? Are they venomous? Do they bite, even humans? Are they even spiders? Let us explore the facts. The fossil record shows that daddy longlegs have been around for quite some time.
It sounds silly today, but as early as the 1600s, English farmers believed that daddy longlegs had a scythe (sickle) that assisted them with each harvest and killing one was thought to be bad luck. Some farmers believed that holding a daddy longlegs with one leg free would help them locate the direction of their lost cattle. And the poor among the French longed to see one in the evening, because they believed it was a sign of good fortune, hope, and happiness.
Environment, Defense & Feeding
Currently, of thousands of daddy longlegs species, six are critically endangered with a high possibility of extinction, eight are endangered, and two are vulnerable. Their habitat is being destroyed, degraded, and even lost due to man-made factors such as coffee growing, urban development, runoff pollution, and cave tourism.
Daddy longlegs live on every continent except Antarctica. In the temperate northern hemisphere, their legs tend to be longer; a male’s legs are also longer than a female’s legs. Their preferred environment is dark and moist, although they can also thrive in the desert. In your house, they would prefer a crawl space, your basement, or garage. Outside they live under logs and rocks, in tree burrows, and in sodden grassland. They have a 2-7 year lifecycle; taking a single year to develop from an egg into an adult.
Interestingly, daddy longlegs do not produce silk, therefore you will only find them in a web if they have fallen victim to the web spun by another type of spider.
Daddy longlegs are social creatures. They gather in thick, clustered communities of at least 300,000 individuals called aggregations. Researchers think that they aggregate for mating, temperature and humidity control, and to deter predators. When threatened by a parasite or predator, the entire aggregation signals a warning by excreting a foul scent. They then bob in a disorienting motion. Finally, they scatter quickly and individually. This foul scent is also used to communicate with one another, perfectly explaining the synchronized defense tactic. Other defenses include blending in with the surroundings, use of its armored body, playing dead to repulse, or willfully detaching a leg or legs to disorient a predator. Loss of a leg or legs is a permanent disability that occurs in at least 60% of their community.
They are poor-sighted creatures with a single pair of eyes, each one mounted on an eye turret that act as light sensors. You may wonder how they acquire food with such limited vision and no web in which to catch an unsuspecting meal. Researchers have concluded that they are most receptive to the light emitted by glowworms, which is a noteworthy portion of their diet. Although they are primarily scavengers of decomposing vegetable and animal matter, they are also opportunistic predators. As omnivores, they also eat plants, fungi, carrion (dead things), invertebrates (certain insects, like centipedes) and snails.
Daddy longlegs use small, hairy appendages near their mouth as sensory organs called pedipalps. These are not fangs nor venomous glands that cause harm by injecting venom into the prey to subdue it. The hairs secrete a poisonous and microscopic, glue-like substance that quickly subdues its prey, even those twice its own size. Although the poisonous secretion may cause harm through topical contact or ingestion by another creature, it is weak and therefore, not strong enough to harm humans.
Researchers have not, to date, found any evidence that daddy longlegs have fangs, are venomous, nor that they are capable of biting humans. Equally as important, they are not spiders.
In spite of their poor eyesight, daddy longlegs are able to sense their surroundings with the sensitive tips of their eight legs. The two longest legs are used as feelers while three legs are lifted and the other three legs touch the ground at the same time. This movement is compared to basketball dribbling or a bobbing motion. They keep these sensory organs in optimal condition by sliding one leg at a time through their mouth, in a motion called leg-threading.
The term, “granddaddy or daddy longlegs” is commonly used with reference to three different creatures: the crane fly, the cellar spider, and the harvestman. Only one is truly a spider. Only one is truly a daddy longlegs.
The crane fly is not a true spider so it is not a daddy longlegs.
The cellar spider is an arachnid in the family Phocidae. It has a two-part segmented body, eight legs, and eight eyes that are clustered together on the foremost segment of its body. It is a true spider, but it is not a daddy longlegs.
The harvestman is an arachnid in its own separate order Opiliones. It has a single, pill-like body without segments, eight legs, and a single pair of eyes. It does not have fangs or venom glands nor is it able to bite. The poisonous secretion found on its pedipalp hairs is actually a “glue” that subdues its prey, either by topical contact or ingestion. The more the prey struggles, the more stuck it becomes. It does not produce silk to spin webs. The harvestman is a true daddy longlegs.
As with daddy longlegs, there may be times in our lives when people mistake our nature, abilities, and limitations. There may also be times in our lives when people believe things about us that simply are not true. At times, we may become our own harshest critic; finding ourselves listening to the lies of the enemy without much resistance, surrendering in hopeless defeat.
Daddy longlegs are clueless to the myths and mistaken identities that have been imposed upon them, but we humans, we know what we think about ourselves, and more often than not, are aware of the beliefs and feelings that others have about us.
Beloved, let us not surrender in hopeless defeat, for we know that the thoughts imposed upon us cannot compare to the truth known by the Lord, the spiritual gifts and talents given by the Holy Spirit, and our true identity and life that is hidden in Jesus Christ. What a blessing it is to know the beauty of proving all things, knowing the power by which we may rebuke falsities, and to hold fast to that which edifies and is good. Stand firm in truth.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” 2 Corinthians 10:4–6
Sources: spiders.ucr.edu/daddy-long-legs; treehugger.com/facts-about-daddy-longlegs-will-surprise-you-4864488; livescience.com/are-daddy-longlegs-the-most-venomous-spiders; budgetbrotherstermite.com/daddy-long-legs-myth-facts; news.fnal.gov/2018/10/daddy-long-legs-15-interesting-facts; callnorthwest.com/2019/11/the-myth-of-the-grandaddy-long-legs; entomologytoday.org/2014/10/02/harvestmen-use-glue-to-capture-prey
Image credit: By Olei – Self-published work by Olei, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=331894