Clump of harvestmen writhing in my perpetually unfinished soffit. The reader will kindly forgive the crappy picture quality; I had only my little point-and-shoot with me, having chemobrainedly omitted to throw the Big Camera Bag into the truck prior to departure. Phalangiium sp., Cottonmouth County, TX, July 2007.
Speaking of shrimp foam, the Twisty Arthropod Institute sponsored a field trip to El Rancho Deluxe yesterday (El Rancho Deluxe is the Faster family seat in Cottonmouth County, where for the past two years I have endured the unparalleled torture of building a house, which house is destined to remain in a perpetual state of it’ll-be-finished-in-two-months). The secondary purpose of this trip was to argue with a roofing contractor (a chap my architect calls a “neanderthal”) about the circumference of proposed downspouts, but the principal mission was to document the harvestmen phenomenon.
I allude to the habit of these harvestmen — also known in the US as daddylonglegs ‘spiders’ — to congregate en masse under the unpainted eaves and unfinished soffits of the future residences of spinster aunts. Viewed from afar, their convocations resemble the gunk you pull out of your shower drain. Closer inspection reveals that they are huddled masses of spindly arthropods, all languidly waving their legs around. I counted eleven clumps of 30 or 100 or so in various crannies around the house, but undoubtedly many more went undiscovered. Some individuals were white, survivors of attempted genocide by sadistic plaster-wielding drywall contractors.
I cannot get behind this anti-spiderism. It mystifies me that a drywall dude who clearly appreciates the beauty in an exquisitely smooth ceiling should fail to be down with this kind of spectacular pulsating arthropod action.
Not to unweave the rainbow overmuch — for certainly you have, since the cradle, cherished warm feelings and romantic ideas about the daddylonglegs — but as the world’s leading expert on harvestmen, I would be remiss if I didn’t debunk a few enduring myths. For one thing, harvestmen are not proper spiders. They’ve got their own order, Opiliones. And they’ve got two eyes instead of eight; the cephalothorax and abdomen, distinct segments in spiders, are fused into a single globular unit; and they don’t spin silk.
Neither is it true that harvestmen are the most venomous creatures in the animal kingdom, but that their mouths are too small to bite. Their fangs don’t emit poison at all. Like many people I know, they do emit a malodorous substance from specialized stink glands, however.
Although zoologists accept without blinking an eye that appending the word ‘man’ to the name of a bug is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, it goes without saying that female harvestmen are not called ‘mommylonglegs’ or ‘harvestwomen’. That would be absurd.