You Don’t Know Granddaddy Longlegs

I saw this guy a few weeks ago on the Little Bradley Falls hike in Saluda, NC

I actually call my own grandad “Granddaddy,” so this post is dedicated to him and our shared love of the animals that most people consider creepy-crawly. For example, frogs. What do people have against frogs? You can’t look me in the eye and tell me frogs aren’t cute.

Anyways, granddaddy longlegs are spiders that – oh, wait, nope, the arthropods have lied yet again, because granddaddy longlegs are not spiders. They are arachnids, but they only have one body segment as opposed to a spider’s two, two eyes as opposed to a spider’s eight, and they can’t spin webs. In fact, granddaddy longlegs are actually called “harvestmen,” but they’re by no means restricted to agricultural habitats. Granddaddy longlegs enjoy living around tree trunks, decks, crawlspaces, and other preferably damp spaces where they hunt smaller arthropods or nibble on plant life. They’re… cave…men? Let’s call them cavemen, that fits better.

Like most of my favorite arthropods, granddaddy longlegs don’t sting or bite. Although there are plenty of biting and stinging arthropods that I do like, I used to pick up just about any arthropod that happened across my path as a child, so over time I’ve bonded with the ones that tolerated me and formed grudges with the ones who retaliated. And granddaddy longlegs never really retaliated.

The first time I held a granddaddy longlegs was on a camping trip with my family. Either Mom or Dad spotted one strolling across our picnic table and demonstrated how to pick up the funny arachnids by gently pinching one of their long legs (I’m at college now and I left my thesauruses at home, bear with me). My brother and I really had to work up the courage to catch a granddaddy longlegs the first time, but now I just scoop them up for my own amusement whenever they cross my path.

One common rumor I’ve heard about granddaddy longlegs is that they’re extremely venomous. Ironically, granddaddy longlegs don’t have any toxicity to speak of at all, unless you eat one and its bodily secretions upset your stomach. In that case, granddaddy longlegs may be slightly poisonous – remember kids, if you get poisoned from a bite, it’s venomous, but if you get poisoned from eating it, it’s poisonous. Woo, terminology!

There are true spiders that resemble skinny granddaddy longlegs and are called “cellar spiders,” but they’re not incredibly dangerous either. While their fang structure does resemble that of the infamous brown recluse spider, cellar spider bites have hardly ever been recorded, and when they did occur they only caused mild discomfort for the human victims. In summary, watch out for brown recluses, but cellar spiders and granddaddy longlegs won’t hurt you.

While you’d have to visit the southern or midwestern United States to see a brown recluse, the only way you’re avoiding granddaddy longlegs is if you live in Antarctica. There are lots of different harvestman caveman species, but you’re bound to run into at least one wherever you go as long as you’re looking in a moist environment. Now you’re even more excited that they don’t bite, right?

Besides harvestmen, granddaddy longlegs are also referred to as “shepherd spiders,” which (besides the spider part) is fitting considering how granddaddy longlegs sometimes travel in groups so they can clump together like a happy little flock, possibly to maintain the humidity they love so much. Yep, granddaddy longlegs are social arachnids and, like most of our arthropod friends, they will be forever ignorant of the term “social-distancing.”

You’re probably curious as to why granddaddy longlegs have such long legs in the first place. Is it so they can travel the world like little arachnid pioneers? Nope, they’re homebodies and rarely go exploring. Is it to fight off predators like little ninja arachnids? Wrong again, they’ll fight predators by not fighting – granddaddy longlegs are noncombative animals that prefer to repulse their enemies with bodily secretions or play dead and wait for their adversary to leave. So… why the long legs?

There are several theories: hunting, competition, and courtship. Granddaddy longlegs may use their lengthy limbs to tackle prey, fence against other males, or impress females. Whatever the reason, these arachnids take pride in their lengthy limbs (I guess I do know some synonyms after all) and will clean them frequently in a very similar manner to our friends the cat beetles (#respectthecatbeetles).

In case it wasn’t already obvious, there’s quite a lot about granddaddy longlegs that we just don’t know. We don’t know much about how or what they eat, we don’t know how many eggs they typically lay, and we don’t know how they mate. Since some male granddaddy longlegs strongly resemble females, there’s a theory that these feminine males trick other males into thinking they’re female so they can get close to the real females unnoticed. Similar behaviors have been seen in other animals like cuttlefish, so this hypothesis may not be too farfetched.

Besides being “venomous spiders,” one thing a lot of people think they know about granddaddy longlegs is that their legs grow back. While these mysterious arachnids will sometimes give up a limb if it means escaping a predator, they’re never getting that limb back. In other words, please be gentle when you handle granddaddy longlegs – their long legs are neither invincible nor regenerative, especially if the specific harvestman is a full adult.

To sum up this post, everything you thought you knew about granddaddy longlegs is a lie. They’re not venomous, their legs don’t grow back, and they’re not even spiders – they are cavemen. I don’t know whether to be mad at the rumor-spreaders or the arachnids themselves, but either way I feel slighted.

Spread this post and spread the word, folks: arthropods are hardly ever what they appear to be.

3 Comments on “You Don’t Know Granddaddy Longlegs

  1. Enjoy reading your blogs… I look forward to each one …i’ve Learned a lot from this one as is the case with each one!!! “Granddaddy”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Crane Flies Are Not Mosquitoes – The ArthroBlogger

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