Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Daddy Longlegs--they might surprise you

Photo bbradthedesigner 
The one thing you may think you know about daddy longlegs is not true. They are not spiders. Daddy longlegs and spiders are both arachnids, but they differ from each other in several ways. Spiders have eight eyes and two distinct body parts, while daddy longlegs have only two eyes and an oval body in which the two sections are fused.  Spiders are also able to generate silk, with which to spin webs, and poison, used to paralyze their prey; daddy longlegs can generate neither.
A bigger surprise than learning that longlegs are not spiders might be finding out that the males have penises. Unlike other arachnids, longlegs have organs that allow direct copulation. They mate frequently, indiscriminately, and without much ceremony, though they may touch one another with their legs.

The female lays her eggs by extending an impressively long tube called an ovipositor into a moist substrate like moss, rotten wood, or damp soil under a stone. The eggs number in the hundreds, and she'll lay several broods in her yearlong lifetime. Once the eggs are laid, the ovipositor telescopes back into her body and her motherly duties are done.

So ... did daddy longlegs surprise you?

14 comments:

  1. Not a spider?  Well I like the non-poisonous part.  What do they eat? 
    When I was in Denmark, one of the little kids on the farm where I stayed would grab a daddylonglegs, hold it by the body and say, "Where did the cows go?" The poor critter would thresh its legs in all directions, and the kid would laugh his head off.

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  2. I thought you were going to say the surprising part was that they can't grow back a leg if one is lost---as children we used to think they could---can they?

    And yes the mating ritual was surprising--so, does he fertilize her or the eggs?  That is--- before or after her ovipositor trick?

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  3. My dad was entomologist so I knew the Daddy Longlegs wasn't a true spider, but he never told me about the penis part! I wonder why? :-)

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  4. They eat plant material and soft-bodied insects like aphids. That's interesting about Denmark, because the folktale I've heard is that you can use daddy longlegs to find cattle--you hold it by the back legs and the front two point toward the lost cow.

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  5. Nope, they can't grow the legs back, but they'll get along okay unless the missing leg is one of the front two--the longest two. All the legs contain sensory equipment, but the front two are the most sensitive and when there's some disturbance, the longlegs will wave them in the air to get info. So missing one cripples them, and I've heard (though don't know if it's true) that if they lose both, they'll die.

    The longlegs actually copulate. Their reproductive organs are located on the underside, near the front of their bodies. Two mating longlegs face each other  and the males extends a loooong penis and inserts it into her oviduct. After they share a cigarette, she ambles off and deposits the eggs via her ovipositor trick.

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  6. He missed the chance to say, "Now, Alice, when a mommy daddy longlegs and a daddy daddy longlegs love each other very much...

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  7. LOL--- Have you ever read Annie Dillards description of preying mantis mating rituals?  It's hilarious and goes on for two pages---worth looking up--p. 58 in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book I'd bet my right arm you own. 

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  8. oops---make that praying mantis----

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  9. You can keep that arm! ;o) 
    I've read that praying mantises have gotten a bad rap because those observations of mating were done in a lab--with very hungry females. In the real world, the males don't fare as badly...

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  10. Sooo  interesting to keep on refining  assumed knowledge---thanks!

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  11. well i pick one up in no harm hank you mam just by the way im 9 years old

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  12. i would kill the kid they non spiders should mate till he mess with them or not mess with them im a kid i dont do that['

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  13. You sound like just the sort of person who SHOULD pick up daddy longlegs--you'd treat them well while you give them a good look and then let them go unharmed! Glad they don't scare you like they do some people!

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