Are daddy longlegs spiders? Daddy longlegs are neither spiders nor flies. That’s just one of the fun facts about these not-to-be feared, slow, and long-legged creatures.
By the way, did you know that daddy longlegs can lose a leg — or leave one behind if trapped — and get on just fine?
What are daddy longlegs?
Daddy longlegs, also known as “harvestmen” because they’re seen more often in late summer and early fall (which is their mating season), sport distinct differences from common spiders found in your home.
Rather than six to eight eyes, daddy longlegs have only two — some species known as “mite harvestmen” have no eyes at all. And instead of two defined body segments, a daddy longlegs’ oval torso appears as one, tiny piece.
Like spiders (and unlike flies), daddy longlegs are arachnids and have eight legs. But instead of falling into the order Araneae, these critters are Opiliones — derived from the Latin “opilio,” meaning “shepherd.”
Most likely, their legs, which can be 30 times as long as their bodies, reminded scientists of the stilts shepherds used to walk on when observing their flocks from above.
Besides helping them get from place to place, a daddy longlegs’ extreme limbs help them “hear” vibrations. These vibrations can signal approaching prey or predators.
If it’s the latter, and the harvestmen finds one of its legs caught in the enemy’s grasp, it can choose to detach the affected limb to make its escape. The limb will not grow back, but these arthropods have learned to compensate for missing ones over their more than 400-million-year existence.
Other defense mechanisms include releasing an awful-smelling scent as repellent, “bobbing” up and down rapidly to make their bodies harder for a predator to hold onto, playing dead, and forming swarms with other daddy longlegs for protection.
Daddy longlegs vs. cellar spiders
Cellar spiders are daddy longlegs look-alikes easily confused with harvestmen — so much so, even entomologists have taken to calling them “daddy longlegs spiders.” Cellar spiders are different from the true daddy longlegs, though.
For starters, cellar spiders make their home inside.
Cellar spiders also create massive webs, have two defined body segments and eight eyes, produce venom (not harmful to people), and prefer basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, and barns to outdoor living.
Daddy longlegs vs. crane flies
The crane fly, a member of a totally different class — insect, instead of arachnid — also wears the misnomer “daddy longlegs.” And while a crane fly’s limbs are lengthy, this insect more closely resembles the mosquito, albeit a larger, non-biting version.
Are Daddy Longlegs Poisonous?
Rumor has it daddy longlegs are the most poisonous arachnids in the world; their fangs are just too small to puncture human skin.
But that rumor? False. Daddy longlegs don’t have fangs nor venom.
Daddy longlegs also don’t make silk, so they can’t spin webs to catch prey. Instead, these omnivores scavenge for small insects and spiders, alive or dead, and eat decomposing vegetable and animal matter.
According to the Ohio State University Extension, daddy longlegs use their mouth parts and claws to tear apart their prey. They’ve even been known to swipe a meal another pest had captured.
In feasting on these foodstuffs, harvestmen help control common pests outdoors. These nocturnal creatures make their homes under rock and wood piles, mulch, and other garden elements. The moisture contained in such dark spaces helps keep daddy longlegs hydrated and protected from the sun.
And while they prefer humid environments, these arthropods can thrive in deserts, and they live on every continent except Antarctica.
How Do Daddy Longlegs Mate?
Some female daddy (mommy?) longlegs are able to reproduce without the help from a male. But more often, the two sexes meet up for direct contact (unlike spiders who merely pick up the sperm sac a male lays down to fertilize her eggs and keep it moving).
The chivalrous type, the males of this species present a gift of food, which the female enjoys while mating. Post-copulation, the male will guard his partner until she safely deposits her eggs in soil or under rock or wood piles.
Upon the arrival of spring, the eggs hatch. To reach adulthood, the baby daddy longlegs go through six transitional phases, molting after each one.
“When preparing to molt, they hang upside down first pulling out the body then grabbing each leg with their chelicerae, pulling it out the new leg to free it,” explains the Colorado State University Extension. “Care must further be given to prevent the newly freed legs from sticking to each other until they sclerotize and harden, which may take hours.”
Once they reach maturity, these arachnids will continue to molt every 10 days. Most daddy longlegs have a lifespan of about a year, but in warmer climates, they can live up to seven years.
Should You Kill Daddy Longlegs in Your Home?
It’s super rare to find a harvestman in your home. Not only do they prefer life in the great outdoors, but they’re also most active at night, so you probably wouldn’t see any even if one did accidentally find its way inside.
Still, if you do happen upon a harvestman, it’s best to let it be. Not considered pests, these arachnids are harmless to people and pets and beneficial to the environment.
You can help return daddy longlegs to their rightful place by picking them up and placing them outside or gently sweeping them outside with a broom.
Save your pest fears for much scarier fare: venomous spiders, bed bugs, cockroaches and snakes. If you have an infestation of any of these, a pest control expert can help you.