Sunday 18 July 2010

Harvestmen season

I have seen quite a number of harvestmen - also known as daddy long legs - in the last couple of weeks, and realised I hadn't posted on them yet. At a distance harvestmen look like skinny, long-legged spiders, but a close-up look reveals they are not spiders (see above a female possibly of Opilio canestrini). Harvestmen belong to the order Opiliones, within the class Arachnida, and they are related to mites, spiders and scorpions and so they have eight legs. They can be distinguished by their fused body, as opposed to the cephalothorax and abdomen of spiders, and more similar in looks to that of scorpions -but without the tail. They have two eyes close together on top of their body, on a tubercle, unlike spiders which have eight eyes. Their legs are very long, and the first pair is even thinner and longer and acts like antennae, constantly sensing the ground like a blindman's stick. They also have a pair of pedipalps and chelicers. Unlike spiders, harvestmen produce no silk, have no venom and are generalist feeders. They have two forms of defence: if trapped they emit a foul-smelling substance which acts as a deterrent to predators. They also shed their legs easily and the severed leg carries on moving for a while, which allows them to scape while the potential predator is distracted with the moving leg. One of the harvestmen I saw yesterday (below, possibly female Phalangium opilio) had only one leg on one side of the body: it wasn't the most elegant walker, but it managed to move quickly enough.
Another important difference from spiders is that harvestmen actually copulate, as males have an intromitent organ. This drawing, from Hillyard and Sankeys' monograph, shows the larger female and the male facing each other 'in copula'.

More information
Harvestmen: keys and notes for the identification of the species.1974 By P. D. Hillyard, John H. P. Sankey. Here.


Antje said...

I used to hate them, those long legs, the shaky movements, uh... Then I started taking photos of them, and that has changed. If you look closely, they have something about them that makes me want to give them a good "head"scratch, right behind those eye ridges. :-)

Africa Gomez said...

I completely agree Antje, the impression harvestmen give changes completely once you get eye to eye with them, to me they look more crustacean than spider once close. I think the fact they have two dark eyes makes a difference - an anthropomorphic thing you'd say - the same reason I relate to jumping spiders more than to spiders with lots of eyes. Have a look at this one:

Antje said...

Yes, that must be it... Suddenly, the long legs look cute and clumsy, rather than disgusting. :-)
That photo of Megabunus diadema is amazing! That spiky "hairdo" cracks me up. And those large doe eyes of course. :-)

liewwk said...

I saw many of them here too (MA, US) ...they are beautiful compare to Malaysia species