Friday, June 14, 2013

What's the Deal? Are Daddy Longlegs Spiders or Not?

I know that spiders are not insects, but in my previous post I brought them up so I'd like to answer my own question.  Because usually when I see something that resembles a spider with very long splindly legs, I get totally freaked out and get away from it before I have any real time to take a good look at it.  You know what I'm talking about:  daddy longlegs.  For some reason, I can tolerate most spiders, but daddy longlegs have always been my personal nightmare.  I literally have had nightmares about DLL (let's just call them that for now) falling on me while I sleep.  But enough about me...let's talk about THEM.


What the heck are daddy longlegs?  Generally, there are two different arachnids that people call DLLs.  One of them is a spider, and one of them is not.  Spiders are a type of arachnid, just like butterflies are a kind of insect; there are lots of other kinds of arachnids, just as there are lots of other kinds of insects.  See?

The figure above shows daddy longlegs as being in the order Opiliones, which are also known as the harvestman.  You run into these guys a lot outside, crawling over leaves and minding their own business.  They are not spiders; their bodies are made up of only one region (spiders have two), and they have two little eyes instead of the usual eight that spiders have. 

The other critter that people call DLLs are spiders, such as the house spider Pholcus phalangioides (see picture below).  These are the ones that hang out in your basement, the corners of your ceiling, and give me nightmares.  They have two body segments and eight eyes, like regular spiders.

Now, what about the deal where people say that DLL have the most poisonous venom but just can't use it because their fangs are too small?  FALSE!!!  I did some checking up on this too, and it turns out that the harvestman has no venom at all, and while spiders in the family Pholcidae do have venom (like most spiders), there is nothing special about it; and in fact, its effect on insects can be relatively mild. 

Well, that answers my questions, do you have any of your own about DLLs?  I will probably still have nightmares about them, but at least they will be informed nightmares.  Just remember - we all have our place in the world with jobs to do, including spiders.  I will do my best to relocate them instead of kill them (or actually, have someone else kill them for me) because it's not their fault that they give me nightmares.  And to be fair, some spiders are kind of cute:

And there are even spiders that are incredibly beautiful (and small, thankfully), including the gorgeous peacock spider.  You can read more about them at It's Okay to be Smart.

Thanks for learning some new things about spiders with me!  What other fun facts can you share about spiders?

Monday, June 3, 2013

I've Been Antsy About Getting The New Issue Out!

Hurray!  It's the start of a new Brainy Girls issue, and for the next two months, we'll be talking about one of my favorite topics...insects!  That's right - we'll be learning all sorts of things about bugs (including true bugs, hemipterans), other insects, and even some other arthropods, and all things wriggly and squirmy!  I'll admit it - when I was younger, insects scared the heck out of me, and I couldn't even tolerate moths or butterflies flittering anywhere near me without running away and freaking out.  However, when I was in college (yes, college), I discovered the underwater world of aquatic insects and was completely mesmerized by a diverse collection of critters that I didn't even know existed.  I then took an entomology class and learned even more about insects in general and today I continue to be amazed by how they've evolved to fill a myriad of ecological niches, or jobs, in the environment.  I will admit that daddy-long-legs still creep me out, although to be fair, they're not insects (but not quite spiders???  I don't know - we'll have to find out...) so if you're not too fond of them either, you're in good company.  It's ok - maybe we can tackle our fears together!

In the previous issue (cycles), I introduced the life cycle of the 17 year cicada, one of my favorite insects. Brood II is emerging all over the East Coast right now, but in case you're not one of the lucky few (relatively) who gets to experience the emergence in person, I've got a treat for you!  Check out this beautiful video that tells the life story of these incredible creatures.  Do you have a favorite insect?  What six-legged animal has crawled its way into your heart?  I want to hear about it!