Northland Nature: Daddy longlegs — not actually spiders — abundant in early August
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at email@example.com.
According to the calendar, early August is halfway from the summer solstice of June to the autumnal equinox of September. Though the daylight is getting shorter, more than an hour less than late June, we still have plenty of summer weather.
Late-summer wildflowers — asters, goldenrods and sunflowers — have taken over the roadsides and open spaces and will continue to bloom for weeks. Others that flowered earlier are now gone to seed and we see plenty of plant happenings while walking now.
And where there are flowering plants, there are also myriad insects, many in early August.
Butterflies, moths, dragonflies, damselflies, bees, wasps, flies, beetles, grasshoppers, locusts and katydids are now in large numbers and diversity. Growing through the earlier weeks of June and July, many have now reached maturity and it is hard to not see the actions of these six-legged critters. And where there are insects, there are various predators. These may be other insects and spiders. After June being the dragonfly month and July being the butterfly month, I like to think of August as the spider month.
These eight-legged critters use various ways to catch insects. While jumping, wolf and crab spiders pursue food in their own ways, without making webs, many others construct snares to catch bug meals. Though there are several kinds of webs, we are most likely to see the large, circular orb webs, often coated with morning dew. Whether in fields, wetlands, woods or yards, these spiders appear to feed on the abundant insects. But there is more to see now.
Recently, as I walked past my garage, I noted movement on the walls. I stopped to take a closer look and saw many daddy longlegs on these vertical sites. Continuing to look, I found more. I decided to count them, but after 150, I stopped.
Daddy longlegs, also known as harvestmen, are cousins of spiders, belonging to the same group: arachnids. (This group also includes ticks and mites.) They have eight legs as spiders do, but they are not spiders.
There are several differences between spiders and daddy longlegs. The legs are much longer with the latter. Spiders have eight eyes and two body parts; daddy longlegs have two eyes and one body part. Spiders are predators with venom and fangs; daddy longlegs are omnivores, usually feeding on dead or decay material of animals and plants and so they do not have or need fangs or venom.
The name “harvestmen” comes from the fact that their maturation in the summer corresponds with the harvesting time. The females lay eggs in fall in the soil, hatching in spring and growing in the warm months. This soil egg laying is another difference between spiders and daddy longlegs.
And behaviorally, there is one more obvious deviation: I found several congregations of daddy longlegs on the walls of the garage. Such would not happen with spiders since they are extreme loners.
Due to some confusion in terminology, a spider that today is called the cellar spider was formerly known as the daddy longlegs spider since it has very long legs. These spiders are very common, often indoors, and in webs. Daddy longlegs do not make webs.
Victims of confusion, stories and terminology, they remain common and easy to see at this time. They are harmless and just interesting to watch. I’ll leave them on the garage and watch what they do during the weeks of late summer. And I’m sure to see them at many sites besides garage walls.