September 16, 2021
When we were up at the reservoir fishing last week, I stopped by the “facilities” and was surprised by the number of granddaddy longlegs there were in the open building. I grew up in an older house that had a variety of bugs all over the outside. I recall times where literally thousands of boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata) would cluster to sun themselves on the south facing wall of the building. I have since learned they may have also been seeking an entry point to overwinter behind the clapboard siding. What I considered the back porch was a wraparound sitting porch originally intended as the front porch of the house. This was secluded and rarely used and accumulated the paper wasp (Polistes gallicus) nests I spoke of previously. The other species I recall were the granddaddy longlegs. My younger brother and I used to try and get them to crawl onto our hands and arms to feel them tickle.
When I looked online, I found that my beloved little spiders are not spiders at all. The Opiliones (formerly Phalangida) are an order of arachnids colloquially known as harvestmen or granddaddy longlegs. To date there are over 6,650 granddaddy species worldwide, although the total number of extant species may exceed 10,000. Representatives of each of the five extant suborders can be found on all continents except Antarctica. While granddaddy longlegs do not have fangs and do not make venom, they do have chelicerae (tiny claws used to hold and tear food), that allow them to eat small pieces of solid food while spiders subsist on a liquid diet. They are easily distinguished from long-legged spiders by their fused body regions and single pair of eyes in the middle of the cephalothorax. Spiders have a distinct abdomen that is separated from the cephalothorax by a constriction, and they have three to four pairs of eyes around the margins of the cephalothorax. Mine were not spiders.
According to entomologists at the University of California, Riverside, the term granddaddy longlegs is commonly used to refer to two distinct types of creatures: opilionids arachnids with pill-shape bodies and eight long legs that are not spiders, and pholcids, which have eight long legs and small bodies, that resemble opilionids but are true spiders. Unlike spiders, granddaddy longlegs cannot spin silk. They are beneficial in your home and garden. They are omnivores with a varied diet. The granddaddy will eat everything from spiders, insects, worms, snails, bird droppings, and fungus. The granddaddy is like a natural pest control for your yard and garden. They are mostly nocturnal and like to hang out in dark moist locations (like the bathroom at the lake and our back porch).
Thoughts: A widespread myth holds that the granddaddy longlegs are the most venomous spiders in the world. The myth tells us we are only safe from their bite because their fangs are too small and weak to break through human skin. Because the Pholcid’s (long-legged spiders) rarely bite, scientists have never bothered to conduct research to determine their venom’s toxicity to humans. In 2004, the show “Mythbusters” set out to coax a granddaddy longlegs spider into biting the arm of the show’s co-host, Adam Savage. 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. The myth was busted. While most myths are based on some facts or actual events, others like the granddaddy are retold without any factual basis. This is true with most of the myths around the covid vaccine. It does not contain tracking chips or make males sterile. What it does do is save lives. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.