What Is A Daddy Long Leg Spider?

Daddy Longlegs: Spiders & Other Critters

Daddy longlegs is a term used to refer to three different types of critters, and only one of them is a spider. A common belief is that daddy longlegs spiders are the most venomous spiders in the world. However, that is an urban myth.

Harvestmen & crane flies

The term “daddy longlegs” most properly refers to an arachnid in the order Opiliones, which are also called harvestmen, according to the department of entomology, soils, and plant science at Clemson University. This outdoor arachnid typically lives under logs or rocks. Unlike spiders, it has only one pill-like body segment. It also has only two eyes, does not spin webs, and is not venomous. Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine wrote that, like the spider, it has eight very long legs that can be 30 times as long as its body.

In the Southern United States as well as some parts of Canada and the United Kingdom, the crane fly is also sometimes called a daddy longlegs, according to The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. This distinctive bug, with six long legs and two large wings, is not a spider, nor an arachnid, but is an insect.

Cellar spiders

Another creature often called daddy longlegs is a spider in the family Pholcidae. The common name for these creatures used to be cellar spiders, but arachnologists have started to call them «daddy longlegs spiders» because of the common confusion, reported the department of entomology at the University of California, Riverside.

These daddy longlegs have two body segments — a cephalothorax and an unsegmented abdomen. Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal, an arachnologist at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, described the abdomen as “very prominent” and “either round or oval shaped.” Like other spiders, these daddy longlegs have eight eyes, which Sewlal said are “arranged into a central pair and two clusters of three on either side of this pair.”

Daddy longlegs spiders range in color from cream to brown or gray, and according to SF Bay Wildlife, some species have brown stripes on the ventral side of their body. The daddy longlegs’ characteristic long, skinny legs are several times the length of its small body. Daddy longlegs spiders can range from 2 to 10 mm long, but their legs can grow up to 50 mm according to the entomology department at Pennsylvania State University. The female is slightly bigger than the male.

According to Sewlal, daddy longlegs’ long legs allow them to put less of their leg in contact with their web silk, making it less likely for them to become caught in their own web. She said this is the case for most web-weaving spiders, which have longer, slenderer legs than wandering, or ambushing spiders.

Daddy longlegs spider habits

Daddy longlegs spiders live on every continent except Antarctica. They prefer damp climates but can nevertheless thrive in deserts. According to the department of entomology at the University of Kentucky, they are especially successful in urban areas where they spin thin, tangled webs in ceiling corners, under furniture, in garages, barns, attics, and basements, and other places where they’re unlikely to be disturbed. Daddy longlegs may be useful spiders because they can help keep the population of other insects and spiders down, according to the Queensland Museum.

The daddy longlegs spider’s web does not have adhesive properties for catching prey. According to BioKIDS, insects and other spiders get trapped in the confusing, irregular web structure. Then, the daddy longlegs covers the prey with silk and administers its fatal bite.

Sewlal described two fascinating defense mechanisms of daddy longlegs spiders. She said that some neotropical species engage in an action called “whirling.” She described it as when “the spider holds onto the underside of its web and swings its body in horizontal circles until it looks like a blur to the human eye. This is a defense mechanism and serves to make the spider appear bigger than it really is. This is particularly useful since they have visual predators such as birds, lizards and even other spiders like some species of jumping spiders.

See also:  What Eats White Tailed Spiders?

“Another behavior that has a similar purpose is called ‘bobbing,’” said Sewlal. Again, the spider holds onto the underside of its web, and there it “repeatedly bends and straightens its legs like it is doing squats.”

Mating

Daddy longlegs spiders can mate throughout the year. According to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, like most spiders, the male squirts sperm onto the web then sucks it up into his pedipalps, a pair of sensory appendages near the mouth. It then inserts the pedipalps into the female’s epigynum (external genital opening), and she carries the sperm around with her until she lays her eggs.

According to Clemson University, daddy longlegs spiders carry their egg sacs in their jaws at all times — with the exception of eating — until the eggs hatch. Then, the newly hatched babies crawl onto the mother’s body for a brief stretch of time. It takes about a year for the baby spiders to develop from egg to adult. Male daddy longlegs typically live for about one year and die after mating. Females can live for three years.

Venom myth busted

According to urban legend, daddy longlegs are the most venomous spiders in the world, but their fangs are too weak to penetrate human skin. However, this myth was busted on the Discovery Channel show «Mythbusters.» A daddy longlegs spider was coaxed into biting the arm of the show’s co-host, Adam Savage. He reported nothing more than a very mild burning sensation from the spider’s venom that lasted just a few seconds.

According to the Australian Museum, the myth may have come about because the daddy longlegs spider can kill the dangerous Australian redback spider, but that is done through its ingenious web-catching technique, not its venom.

Taxonomy/classification

Daddy longlegs spiders (Cellar spiders)

According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), there are more than 80 genera of daddy longlegs spiders and about 1,000 species. The taxonomy of cellar spiders is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Subkingdom: Bilateria
  • Infrakingdom: Protostomia
  • Superphylum: Ecdysozoa
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Arachnida
  • Order: Araneae
  • Family: Pholcidae

Harvestmen

The taxonomy of harvestmen, according to ITIS, is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Subkingdom: Bilateria
  • Infrakingdom: Protostomia
  • Superphylum: Ecdysozoa
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Arachnida
  • Order: Opiliones

There are about 6,500 species of harvestmen.

Crane flies

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Subkingdom: Bilateria
  • Infrakingdom: Protostomia
  • Superphylum: Ecdysozoa
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Hexapoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Subclass: Pterygota
  • Infraclass: Neoptera
  • Superorder: Holometabola
  • Order: Diptera
  • Suborder: Nematocera
  • Infraorder: Tipulomorpha
  • Family: Tipulidae

There are three subfamilies, more than 500 genera and more than 15,000 species of crane fly.

Additional resources

  • Learn more about Jo-Anne Sewlal’s research on orb-weaving spiders.
  • The Kentucky Critter Files discusses cellar spiders.
  • BioKIDS: Pholcidae

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English and Spanish Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Spanish to English Translator

There isn’t a simple answer to this question, because it all depends on which variety of world English you speak. There are three completely different creatures which go by the name of daddy-long-legs: in British English, daddy-long-legs is another word for a crane fly, but in American English, it’s an alternative name for a harvestman. If you speak Australian English, then daddy-long-legs is a type of spider. This spider is also known as daddy long-legs in North America and elsewhere.

Both the harvestman and the daddy-long-legs spider are arachnids, but only the latter is actually a spider. The crane fly isn’t closely related to spiders: it’s an insect. What do they have in common? All three are arthropods (a large category of invertebrate animals which includes insects, spiders, and crustaceans), and as their name suggests, they have extremely long legs in relation to their bodies. Here’s a brief description of each one.

  • Crane fly: a delicate two-winged fly with six very long dangly legs. It belongs to the Tipulidae family, which includes many genera and species, especially the large and common Tipula maxima. They’re nocturnal insects and attracted to light, so you’ll often find them flittering around your house on summer or autumn evenings.
  • Harvestman: an arachnid of the order Opiliones, with a globular body and eight very long thin legs. Although harvestmen are related to spiders (they’re all members of the class Arachnida), harvestmen don’t spin webs and they don’t have venom-producing fangs.
  • Daddy-long-legs spider: a spider of the Pholcidae family, Pholcus phalangioides, with a small body and eight very long thin legs. Spiders in the Pholcidae family are commonly known as cellar spiders or tangle-web spiders: as these names suggest, they live in buildings and spin rather untidy, irregular webs.
See also:  How Long Does Spider Venom Stay In Your Body?

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Are Daddy Longlegs Really the Most Venomous Spiders In the World?

By Natalie Wolchover 08 December 2011

It turns out that the notion is false on both counts. But a little clarification is needed.

According to entomologists at the University of California, Riverside, the term «daddy longlegs» is commonly used to refer to two distinct types of creatures: opilionids arachnids with pill-shape bodies and eight long legs that are actually not spiders, and pholcids, which have long legs and small bodies, and thus resemble opilionids, but which are true spiders.

Opilionids true daddy longlegs live in moist, dark places and eat mostly decomposing vegetable and animal matter. «They do not have venom glands, fangs or any other mechanism for chemically subduing their food,» the UC entomologists write on their website. «Therefore, they do not have poison and, by the powers of logic, cannot be poisonous from venom. Some have defensive secretions that might be poisonous to small animals if ingested. So, for these daddy longlegs, the tale is clearly false.»

Pholcids, or daddy long-legs spiders, are venomous predators, and although they never naturally bite people, their fangs are similar in structure to those of brown recluse spiders, and therefore can theoretically penetrate skin. For these reasons, «This is most probably the animal to which people refer when they tell the tale,» the entomologists assert.

But is pholcids’ venom extremely poisonous? Surprisingly, because they almost never bite, scientists have never bothered to conduct research to determine their venom’s toxicity to humans . In 2004, the Discovery Channel show «Mythbusters» stepped in to fill this knowledge void. The team set out to coax a daddy longlegs spider into biting the arm of the show’s co-host, Adam Savage.

Their official conclusion? Myth busted. The spider was able to penetrate Savage’s skin, and he reported nothing more than a very mild burning sensation from the venom that lasted just a few seconds.

Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover. Follow Life’s Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.

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Daddy Longlegs: Arachnids, but Not Spiders

pachytime/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

People often mistake a daddy longlegs, also called a harvestman, for a spider. Daddy longlegs do have some spider-like qualities since, like spiders, they are classified as arachnids.

Like all arachnids, they do have eight legs and tend to skitter about the way spiders do. We often see them in the same places where we see spiders. In fact, daddy longlegs are more like scorpions than spiders.

Arachnids

Other critters that are arachnids include scorpions, mites, and ticks, and those arthropods are certainly not spiders. In fact, arachnids are not insects either. Insects are animals with six legs, wings, or antennae. Arachnids have none of the above.

Opiliones Compared to Araneae

The daddy longlegs belongs to the order Opiliones. Unlike in spiders, the number of eyes of daddy longlegs, as well as body type, sex organs, and defensive mechanisms, are all different.

In opilionids, the head, thorax, and abdomen are fused into one thoracic cavity. Spiders, of the order Araneae, have a distinct waist between the cephalothorax and the abdomen. Opilionids have just two eyes, compared to the usual eight in spiders.

See also:  What Happens If You Get Bit By A Wolf Spider?

Daddy longlegs also do not produce silk, unlike spiders. They do not spin webs, and they do not use webs to capture prey. If you find a harvestman in a web, it does not live there. It probably would like to be rescued from the spider that is about to eat it.

Finally, daddy longlegs are not venomous. They do not have fangs, nor venom glands. Most spiders, with only a few exceptions, produce venom.

Special Adaptations

Daddy longlegs stink when threatened, thanks to defensive stink glands, which have been observed to repulse predators. Daddy longlegs are usually extremely well camouflaged. During the day, many of them hide in crevasses, and when disturbed, they usually curl up and remain motionless for several minutes by playing dead—which works extraordinarily well.

Anyone who has tried to catch a daddy longlegs knows they have a tendency to shed their legs. Grab one by the foot, and it promptly lets go of the entire leg and runs off. They will voluntarily shed legs to get away from predators, but sadly a new appendage does not grow back if it is already full grown. There is some hope if it is in the nymph stage that the leg might grow back.

Its legs are not just vital to locomotion, they are also nerve centers. Through its legs, the daddy longlegs may sense vibrations, smells, and tastes. Pull the legs off a harvestman, and you might be limiting its ability to make sense of the world.

Mating Behavior and Sex Organs

Unlike spiders that use an indirect method of transferring sperm to females, the harvestman does tend to have elaborate mating rituals and a specialized organ capable of depositing sperm directly into the female.

In some harvestman species, there are «sneaky males» also known as beta males, who camouflage themselves as females, get close to a female and plant its seed into unwitting females.

Other Daddy Longlegs

Some of the confusion over whether the daddy longlegs is a spider comes from the fact that there are two are small creatures with that name, and one actually is a spider.

The daddy longlegs spider is the cellar spider. It is pale gray or tan and has banding or chevron markings. Crane flies, which resemble large mosquitoes, are sometimes called daddy longlegs as well.

www.thoughtco.com

Daddy long legs

The phrase ‘daddy long legs’ illustrates one of the biggest problems in biology. That is, people in different parts of the world use the same name to refer to more than one species or even groups of species.

In the case of ‘daddy long legs’ this name is used to refer to one of three different invertebrates:

  1. A true fly belonging to the family Tipulidae. These flies are also sometimes called Crane flies.
  2. A type of arachnid related to spiders known as an Opilione or sometimes as a harvestman.
  3. A species of spider called Pholcus phalangioides which is found in cellars, basements and dark corners of houses. It’s also called the Daddy Long Legs spider or Cellar spider. Interestingly this spider is also a subject of an urban myth that says it has the strongest venom of any spider in the world but that its fangs are too small to penetrate the skin of a human. This is a myth, the venom is relatively weak. and they can pierce the skin (just).

Entomologists and other scientists remove this ambiguity by using the scientific name for an organism. This name is the same across the world so scientists can be sure they are talking about the same species.

A tipulid fly.
Photograph by Eugene Zelenko, used under GFDL

A photograph of a harvestman.
Photograph by Martina Tillein licensed under Creative Commons.

A photograph of the cellar spider (Pholcus phalangioides).

Related terms

  • Arachnid
  • Crane fly
  • Opiliones
  • Spider

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