09 December 2013

Metaphalangium albounilineatum is Daddy longlegs, Daddy-Long-Legs, Harvest-Spiders, Shepherd Spiders and Grandfather Graybeards

Every winter we have a few fun creatures living in the garden shed along with our plants. There are always Daddy Long Legs. Last week I was out there transplanting seedlings and it crawled up onto the shelf where I was working, wandered around the plants and then discovered me. Yikes! Quick turnaround and back down into the pots on the floor.

These gentle creatures have no venom or poison with which to stun their prey (or us).
 
They are not spiders (arachnid). And, they do not spin webs.
 
They are Opilliones (or Opiliones) which means aphid sucker meaning they are perfect guests in a garden shed where aphids abound. Here's a National Geographic video of a Daddy Long Legs ingesting an aphid and winning a fight with a large beetle.
 
Their food consists of aphids, beetles, caterpillars, ants, earthworms, flies, mites, small slugs, snails and spiders according to Galveston County Master Gardeners. "The name Harvestmen comes from their being seen in late summer and fall at harvest time. Other common names include harvest-spiders, shepherd spiders (because of the way males guard females during egg-laying) and the Native Americans call them grandfather graybeard, meaning "Feet of Hairs.""
 
Other fun facts: they have 2 eyes, their legs are 7 jointed, they emit a foul odor when threatened, they are mostly introverts that travel alone, they live in organic matter over the winter, they clean every leg after eating, and are generally beneficial.
 
They are eaten by large spiders and birds.
 
The Burke Museum points out that Daddy Long Legs is a misnomer and we should all call them Harvestmen to keep things clear.
 
According to the UCR Spiders Site, "The creatures most correctly called daddy-longlegs are in their own separate Order which is Opiliones. Common names for this Order are 1) daddy-longlegs, 2) harvestmen and 3) opilionids.
 
They are characterized by having one basic body segment which shows segmentation on the posterior portion, at most 2 eyes and all 8 legs attach to the pill-like body segment.
 
They are usually found under logs and rocks, prefer moist habitat although they can be found in the desert, often have long flexible legs (in the temperate Northern hemisphere but there are also short-legged daddy-longlegs) and they do not produce silk so therefore they are never found in webs unless they are being eaten by spiders. Because they are found under logs and other stuff which people most often are not turning over, most folks don't run into daddy-longlegs very often."
 
Actually, that last bit about not seeing them very often isn't at all true for us. They crawl the outside walls of the house regularly in the summer/fall and live quite happily in the heated garden shed all winter.

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