Harvestman, daddy long-legs

The harvestman, known as the “daddy long-legs,” are common throughout Missouri and are often misidentified as spiders.

Species: Harvestman

Scientific name: Order Opiliones

Nicknames: Daddy longlegs, granddaddy longlegs

Claim to fame: Despite being familiar sights in the Ozarks, there is a large amount of misinformation associated with these creatures. They are not insects, but they’re not spiders, either. They’re arachnids. They’re not venomous, either. As far as humans are concerned, harvestmen are harmless creatures whose diets provide some benefits to us. Fossilized imprints indicate harvestmen have been around for more than 400 million years.

Species status: Harvestmen are common throughout Missouri.

First discovered: The first scientific description of the harvestman was written by the Swedish naturalist Carl Jakob Sundevall in 1833.

Family matters: More than 6,000 species make up the Opiliones order of arachnids, which are the creatures commonly referred to as harvestmen. (This differentiates them from spiders, which belong to the Aranae order of arachnids.) Many harvestmen found in Missouri belong to the Sabacon genus, a group consisting of about 40 species.

Length: In a measurement that includes legs, most have a diameter somewhere between one and three inches.

Diet: In addition to being part of Nature’s clean-up crew by feeding on decomposing plant and animal matter, harvestmen also prey several types of small invertebrates. Included on their list of food items are aphids, which can be garden and crop pests. No part of a harvestman’s body contains venom. Harvestmen do have mouth parts that allow them to break apart their food, but their mouths are not strong enough to break human skin.

Weight: Not available

Distinguishing characteristics: Harvestmen have several characteristics that distinguish them from spiders. A harvestman’s abdomen and cephalothorax are combined in what appears to be one body part: In a spider, these two body parts are defined as two different areas. Spiders have eight eyes while most harvestmen have two eyes. (Some have no eyes.) Spiders have silk glands or spinnerets, harvestmen don’t. All spiders have venom, harvestmen don’t. 

Life span: From one summer to the next.

Habitat: Harvestmen prefer moist habitats and are frequently found in forests, caves and damp areas in old buildings.

Life cycle: Harvestmen over-winter in the egg stage. Young emerge in spring and undergo several molts before reaching adult stage. 

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