Arachnophobics, Skip This Post

I’m visiting the U.S. from the Philippines for a few weeks, and I’ve been staying at my mother’s house as she fractured her knee just a couple days before I got here.
Almost every day I go for a walk in the woods and almost every day I see something new or different. The woods right now (and the deck, and the meadow, and everywhere) are full of the insect most of us call grand-daddy long legs, but which are more properly called harvestman. Turns out that in some areas, daddy long legs is the common name for crane flies or
cellar spiders or something else.

I was told that they are extremely venomous but safe for humans because their mouths are too small to bite us at all, however, according to this site, they have neither venom nor a delivery system for it. I wonder where these myths come from?
They do not make webs, and unlike other arachnids, they are able to eat food directly, without liquifying it. They eat many different things, including other small insects. They lay eggs, and in some of the species, the male guards the nest and cleans the eggs until they hatch.

Unlike other arachnids, they often hang out together, and without eating each other. The idea is that a group of them together can protect each other from drying out in a dry, hot climate, or possibly, the small scent they emit when disturbed is a better protection against predators when a group of Harvestmen together are emitting that scent.

So, we have seen a lot of them in the woods and elsewhere on the property. Mostly, they are nondescript colours, brown mainly. But one day last week or so, The HG (now a mother of five children 7 and under, btw), noticed some very red varieties, and then we noticed more, and then we noticed more again. As the HG’s current four year old sagely observed on a nature walk, ‘If you see two of something, then you are sure to see more.” And quite right she was.

I took a few pictures of the red harvestman or Opiliones- the harvestman is a member of the species Opiliones, an arachnid but not a spider. There are several thousand different kinds, at the thought of which the mind boggles and the skin may feel a bit itchy. I used a free magnifying app I had downloaded on my camera. When I looked at the pictures I was astonished to see that the creatures were not red at all- they were apparently being colonized by something else that is red:

According to the experts, these red things are most likely to be phoretic mites. And that led to even more interesting information.

According to Wikipedia, the term phoretic refers to ‘a form of symbiosis where the symbiont, termed the phoront, is mechanically transported by its host.” Neither of the two organisms in this symbiotic relationship depends much on the other- they can survive independently.

So basically, these red mites were using the Harvestmen as a taxi service, all over the woods on the same day. Was there a special at Macy’s or something?

The mites probably are part of the decomposition squad in the forest, and they will drop off the harvestman when they get to something good to eat. They look like tiny seeds in my picture, but my magnification isn’t good enough to show their tiny, thread like legs.

And this was highly interesting:

“Many phoretic mites travel on scavenger insects and are highly specific; they will arrive on a particular species of host and no other. Because of this, they may be useful as trace indicators of their carriers even when their carriers are absent.”

(PDF) Phoretic mites associated with animal and human decomposition. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26321788_Phoretic_mites_associated_with_animal_and_human_decomposition [accessed Jul 07 2018].”

So they use the harvestman as a public transportation service, and they are picky about it.

Now, my experts could be wrong and these could be some more problematic form of mite, something parasitic, perhaps, but a day or two later and we didn’t see the red harvestmen any more- they were back to their usual nondescript brown.

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5 Comments

  1. Kristine Barr
    Posted July 7, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Very interesting. Also great photography!

  2. Lisa Beth W.
    Posted July 7, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Highly interesting, indeed! Thanks!

  3. MMC
    Posted July 7, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Oh, your post wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. 🙂 I have a severe phobia of grandaddy longlegs/harvestmen. To the point that I can’t walk in and out of a door if they are nearby or hanging on the door or above, etc.

    After taking Psych 101 as an impressionable freshman, I spent a summer trying homemade desensitization therapy — I got to where I could poke them with sticks, then pick them up with a glove, and finally a few times I was able to pick them up and fling them outside with a bare hand. All I really wanted was to get to the point that I could brush them off when they inevitably drop down on your shoulder from a tree limb, without whooping and carrying on like a ninny. My “cure” didn’t last long. I kind of feel like the fellow Jesus talks about in Matthew 12 who was healed of one unclean spirit, but then seven worse spirits took up residence! 🙁

    They are awful/fascinating when they clump up together in the thousands — and even worse when they are disturbed!! *shudder*

  4. Christ
    Posted July 8, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I think daddy-long-legs (which they will forever be to me) are pretty cool creatures, even if I used to taunt my scaredy-cat cousin with them by throwing them on her when we were kids. Not very nice but I was six and it seemed the thing to do. Now I am more likely to just move them outside, even though I kill other spiders.

  5. Chris
    Posted July 8, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I think daddy-long-legs (which they will forever be to me) are pretty cool creatures, even if I used to taunt my scaredy-cat cousin with them by throwing them on her when we were kids. Not very nice but I was six and it seemed the thing to do. Now I am more likely to just move them outside, even though I kill other spiders.

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