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I have been gone for the past couple of weeks on a trip to Atlanta with my parents. My mother is an artist and sells her work at certain stores and craft shows – at times I like to go along and help them out. This most recent craft show was outside in a beautiful forested area. For my parents this was rather unusual because they are used to being inside – but for me I was simply happy to be outside with all the animals! I wasn’t disappointed either – we were visited by a plethora of butterflies and wonderful diversity of song birds. There was one animal that seemed to make its presence known the most – an arachnid that most of us refer to as the “daddy long legs”.
The animal I am referring to is the one that I grew up calling “daddy long legs” but I now know it as a harvestman or Opiliones. Some people also use this name to refer to a certain spider (which I call the cellar spider) and others even refer to the crane fly with that name (though I grew up calling crane flies – “skeeter hawks” and “gall-a-nippers”). Harvestmen are the spider-like animals you often find on the forest floor with really long legs bouncing about. They don’t build webs and aren’t actually a real spider. They are related to spiders but lack any venom and don’t have the right number of body parts (only one when all true spiders have two).
While at the craft show with my parents we would come each morning to remove the tarps surrounding our tent only to disturb dozens of the eight legged critters – sending them bouncing along the ground in a comical retreat. I would always smile and try to herd them towards the forest but some of the visitors and other vendors in the area were not as magnanimous about their intrusion. At times I would hear people crying out as they came across one and often found myself picking it up and trying to educate them on their biology and how there was nothing to be afraid of.
I have a particular fondness for these arachnids because they are the center for one of my first memories involving arachnids. When I was in the first grade my family moved to a new house in Perrysburg, Ohio. I remember getting up from the first night in my new room and heading down to the family room only to see what looked like a huge spider standing guard on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. Terrified I woke my father and asked him to vanquish the beast for me so that I could get to my cheerios. I guided him to the offending animal and he laughed at me and gently picked it up letting it run along his arm while telling me there was nothing to be afraid of. I remember not wanting to look like a “baby” so I reached out and let it walk over my hand. Those gentle footsteps on my hand fascinated me and ever since – even 25 years later – I find myself eager to pick them up.
I had so much fun playing with all of the Harvestmen in Atlanta and reliving that youthful wonder at their comical nature – that I decided to bring some back here with me so that we could share them with visitors of the Insectarium. So far they have been a big hit at the presentation areas and I hope to get them to breed so that we can keep them here year round. They will likely be one of the animals focused on in our upcoming “Crawloween” event where we talk about insect myths and legends because there is a lot of false information out about them. One of the biggest myths being that they have the most potent venom of all spiders, when in reality they don’t have any venom at all and aren’t even spiders!
So if you happen to see any of these little fellows bouncing around in the leaf litter in your back yard please take a moment to appreciate them and if you are feeling adventurous you might even want to put your hand out to feel them walk over it!