When I was a kid growing up, my grandfather lived in the woods. His driveway was shaped like an oval and inside there was an “island” with grass, some tall trees, and a big rock. I must have been about six or seven when, one summer, my sisters and I found a daddy longlegs on that rock. I had a serious arachnophobia as a child but somehow, with my sisters present, that lone, long-legged creature didn’t disturb me so much. We named him George, and he was our daddy longlegs.
We left George at my grandfather’s house when we went home that evening. As if by fate, my sisters and I found another daddy longlegs in our house within the next week. With a child’s mind and sense of wonder, I was amazed to think that George had traveled all the way from my grandfather’s woods to find us at ours. For years, every daddy longlegs that we found was named George after the first, well-traveled daddy longlegs.
Daddy longlegs are not true spiders, but relatives of spiders. They belong to the arachnid family, which also includes mites, ticks, and scorpions. They are different from spiders because the head, thorax and abdomen are fused together in one whereas spiders have two parts. In addition, daddy longlegs have two eyes instead of eight. Daddy longlegs are also known as harvestmen, which may refer to the fact that they are on the move and most conspicuous at harvest-time in the fall.
Daddy longlegs are generalist, opportunistic feeders. There is a common urban myth that they possess the most poisonous venom of all animals but can’t bite people because their mouthparts are so small. In actuality, daddy longlegs don’t have any venom at all. There is a daddy longlegs spider, the cellar spider, which is a true spider with long, skinny legs. This spider has venom like any other spider, but scientific studies have shown that it is not very strong.
In 2012, I moved into my grandfather’s house and all the daddy longlegs in his woods are now mine – and I still call them George. Every year in late summer, we know that the seasons are about to change when the daddy longlegs being to appear, stalking around on their stilt-like legs. Judy Hawes published a children’s book titled My Daddy Longlegs in 1972. Whenever I read this, I think about George, my daddy longlegs, and I hope it instills the same sense of wonder in my children as George instilled in me.
Story and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler