Harvestman

2013 November 6

For as common as they are, it has been an excessively long time since I posted pictures of a harvestman (the last ones were way back in 2008). My only excuse is that they are a bit awkward to photograph, because of the long legs – do I photograph the legs and leave the body as an insignificant dot, or photograph the body and ignore the legs? Still, when this one presented itself around the porch light on November 11, 2012 and posed so nicely, I obviously had to try again.

OK, let’s get the legs out of the way. The very, very long legs. If we humans had legs as long as that relative to our bodies, they’d be about 50 feet long.

Now let’s zoom in on the body. There is a kind of hourglass mark on the back that appears to occur in a lot of the members of the family Phalangiidae, so I’d say it is probably one of them.

It looks rather a lot like one of the ones in the family Sclerosomatidae. It has the same unornamented back and long pedipalps, and if you look closely at the tip of the pedipalp there is a tiny little claw.

I might even go so far as to suggest it’s in the genus Leiobunum, although getting down to species is definitely a microscope job.

Anyway, this one is showing why one of their common names[1] is “Harvestman”, because they are biggest and most noticeable around fall harvest time (and as this one shows, they can continue to be found well into November). They’re totally harmless to humans, as they not only lack venom, they are completely incapable of breaking a person’s skin. I used to hold them in my fingers and watch them scrabble at my fingerprints with their mouthparts when I was a kid. And they are alarmingly fragile, if you grab them by a leg they will shed it and run off more often than not.

They’re also not actually spiders, even though they look like them. They are a completely separate order of arachnids, like pseudoscorpions. They are predatory, eating little things like mites and springtails, which they pounce on from above and chew up.

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[1] Another common name for them is “Daddy Long-Legs”, but I don’t like using that name because it gets applied to pretty much every long-legged arthropod, and it therefore isn’t very useful for knowing what somebody is actually talking about. Also, I think it is insufferably cutesy.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. November 8, 2013

    Only two eyes? They’re like cut-rate spiders for those times when you want an 8-legged predator, but don’t have enough money for the real thing.

  2. November 8, 2013

    By the way, fantastic photos again. I love the side view. It looks like a low rider spider.

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