December 20, 2012

The Most Poisonous Spider??

If there is one thing you have ever heard about these creepy crawlies it is probably the old myth that:
“Daddy Long Legs are the MOST poisonous spider in the whole world, but their mouths aren’t big enough to bite people.”
Well, let me be the first person to tell you that this is just not the case! There are many levels on which this statement is absolutely false.  So let’s break it down step by step to so we can better understand these long-legged inhabitants of the field and forest.

1.        What we call Daddy Long Legs aren’t actually spiders.  I must first clarify that there are more than one creature that has been referred to as a “Daddy Long Legs”.  There is a type of spider commonly found on the West Coast and in the Southwest desert that has been referred to as “Daddy Long Legs”.  This spider has also been proved to NOT be the most poisonous spider in the world with a mouth too small to bite, which you can see in this short clip from Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” (http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/daddy-longlegs-minimyth.htm).

Then there is the creature that we commonly see in this part of the country, which has also been referred to as the Harvestman, which isn’t actually a spider.  They look very similar to spiders, (with their eight legs and the way they move). Daddy Long Legs belong to a separate order (opilinoids) of the arachnid class.  Unlike the 8 eyes that spiders have Daddy Long Legs have 2 eyes.  Spiders have 2 body sections, where Daddy Long Legs only have 1.  Daddy Long Legs also don’t construct webs.  So if you find one in a web, it is probably there to become a tasty snack to the real owner of the web.


2.      If Daddy Long Legs were to bite someone, they would inject a venom, not a poison.  Although the terms are often used interchangeable, poison and venom are actually very different.  Poisonous animals are only dangerous when another animal touches it or eats it.  Then the poison is ingested or absorbed.    However, animals that bite other people inject venom.  So calling snakes “poisonous” is actually a misnomer as well, as the proper name would be a venomous snake.  So if the rest of the myth were true, Daddy Long Legs would actually be a venomous animal, not a poisonous animal.

3.      Their mouths aren’t big enough to bite people.  This part of the myth seems to actually have been based in fact.  Harvestmen do not bite humans, and mostly eat decaying matter.  However, they are called “opportunist predators” which means they will eat other living creatures if they get the chance to. 

However, the “Daddy Long Leg” does have some pretty interesting defense mechanisms.  Some species of Opilinoids (there are thousands of different types) release a defensive secretion when under attack.  Some scientists have suggested that this may be poisonous to small animals if ingested (making it a poison not a venom, remember?). 
“Anyone who's tried to catch a daddy longlegs knows they have a tendency to shed their legs. Grab one by the foot, and it promptly lets go of the entire leg and runs off,” Says scientist Debbie Hadley, and then adds, “As an adult with some knowledge of arachnids, I feel a bit guilty about my early years tormenting daddy longlegs. Their legs are not just vital to locomotion, they're also nerve centers. Through its legs, the daddy longlegs may sense vibrations, smells, and tastes. Pull the legs off a harvestman, and you are limiting its ability to make sense of its world.”
So to sum it up, Daddy Long Legs are not the most poisonous spider in the world… They aren’t even spiders!  So now, get out there and do your part to help people understand a little bit more about this misunderstood creatures!

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