Who’s Your Daddy?: Sorting Your Daddy-Long-Legs From Your, Er, Daddy-Long-Legs…
You still remember it well; six years old, peacefully playing with your Lego and Stickle Bricks on your bedroom floor. Dusk approaches, bringing with it dark grey shadows that lengthen across the room. Then suddenly, the harmony of your quiet, contented solitude is broken. An uncanny unease descends upon you. You feel you are no longer alone. You feel…like someone is watching you. Timidly, you turn your head to look behind you. There is nobody there. Just as you try to shrug off the unnerving sensation and return to your play things, something catches your eye. There. On the wall. Hidden in the half-shadows. There it is. Long spindly legs splayed out around it, it sits there. Watching you. Watching, and waiting. You freeze. An uncontrollable terror clamps down on your every muscle with a vice-like grip. For a split-second you cannot even breathe. And then, without a further thought, you’re up, through the door, bolting down the hallway, sounding the alarm and crying out for help in the only way you know how:
"MOMMMMM! COME QUICK THERE’S A HUGE SPIDER IN MY ROOOOOOOM!!!"
Yup, you’ve just had your first ever encounter with a Daddy-long-legs! However, as long-legged a lovely as it may have been, depending on it’s morphology, it may not technically have even been a spider. Indeed, there’s only a 1 in 3 chance that it was. For across the globe there are, in fact, three different creepy crawlies to carry the notorious name of “Daddy-long-legs”. So, lets take a look at these three detestable daddies…
- Daddy Harvestman: With between 6,500 to over 10,000 species, harvestmen, aka Opiliones, are a pretty diverse bunch. Although belonging to the class Arachnida, they are not of the order Araneae and so are not, as it were, spiders. While, like spiders, harvestmen have two parts to their bodies, the connection between these parts is broad, so much so that it seems as though the body is one single oval structure. Asides from this, harvestmen have neither venom in their chelicerae (mouthparts) nor silk glands with which to build webs. Definitely not spiders.
- Daddy Crane Fly: If your first fearful encounter happened to be with a creature that not only had the long-and-danglies but also had frickin’ wings, then chances are it was nothing more than a cutesy crane fly (Tipulidae). Unlike most flies, crane flies are fairly weak and poor fliers with a tendency to “wobble” in unpredictable patterns during flight. While for the braver child this means they can be caught without much effort, for the more skittish rugrat it just adds to the plethora of terror in sight - a spider; with wings; that’s clearly skitzo! But now you know - not a spider, just an insect.
- Daddy Cellar Spider: The only true spider in our creepy collection, cellar spiders (Pholcidae) can be found on every continent in the world besides Antarctica (tactical tip: they don’t like extreme cold!) Although pretty fragile for an arachnid, cellar spiders display impressively aggressive feeding strategies; they are known to invade webs of other spiders and eat the host, the eggs or the existing prey. In some cases the spider vibrates the web of other spiders, mimicking the struggle of trapped prey to lure the host of the web closer. They are also natural predators of the Tegenaria species (house spiders), and are even known to attack and eat redback spiders and huntsman spiders. Definitely spiders!
So there you have it - your three daddies.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about which one “y’know, has the most potent venom of all spiders but it’s fangs can’t pierce human skin. Like, phew, so lucky for us!”, in truth, it’s none of them. While cellar spiders might seem the likely candidate seeing as they’re the only ones from this group to actually possess venom, it is nothing compared to that produced by a black widow spider. Also, as proved by Mythbusters, the fangs can pierce human skin but the bite will cause nothing more than a mild short-lived burning sensation. No doubt unpleasant, but hardly the stuff of lethal-legends…
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