What are Harvestmen?

Harvestmen are more commonly known as “daddy long legs.”  Although there are thirty seven families and six thousand five hundred species, “daddy long legs” refers to only one family of Harvestmen, the Phalangiidae.  With such a profound number of species, harvestmen can be found almost anywhere in the world.  Interestingly enough, eighteen families of harvestmen can be found in Texas.

The old legend claims that “daddy long legs” or harvestmen are the most venomous animal in the world; but they do not have fangs long enough or a mouth conducive to biting a human being.  This tale, however, is nothing but a preposterous tall tale!  Harvestmen do not have glands that contain venom.  Also, the chelicerae or pseudo fangs are simply used to grasp things and are not powerful enough to penetrate the skin of a human being.  Furthermore, harvestmen are slightly pesky nuisances, especially when crawling briskly across you, but they are medically harmless.

Distinctiveness of Harvestmen 

Although most people probably consider them to be spiders, harvestmen differ as spiders have two separate body segments.  Harvestmen have a single, globular body that has a distinctly segmented abdomen.  The two eyes almost appear as if they are glued in place on the surface of the body.  The harvestmen’s eyes do not form images and are used in conjunction with their second pair of legs, pseudo antennae, to delve into their environment.  The body looks much like the body of a crab.  Extending from the single-segmented body are many long spindly legs appearing much like very thick strands of hair.  There are, however, species of harvestmen that have short legs.  Additionally, harvestmen have scent glands just outside the base of their legs that produce an obtrusive odor.  This odor may indeed be the reason that many people believe them to be poisonous.

Living Conditions

Harvestmen, found in covered areas such as caves and beneath logs and other wooded areas, are considered both predators and scavengers.  They prey upon other small insects and arthropods alike, most of which also inhabit wooded areas with overgrown vegetation.  Typical arachnids have a filtering mechanism called a sucking stomach that protects them from parasites.  Harvestmen do not have this filtering mechanism and are prone to internal parasites.   Harvestmen are equal opportunity in that they will eat dead animals, live or dead plant matter, and the feces of most any animal.  These omnivores do hunt their prey but find meals of dung equally delicious!

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