Have you ever heard that daddy longlegs have venom and are the most dangerous spiders in the world? If you think this is nothing but a myth, get ready to be surprised.
We often see them crawling around the backyard and in shadowy nooks. Daddy longlegs are among the insects we meet frequently, and we usually don’t fear for our safety around them. But did you know that daddy longlegs have paralyzing venom and can be poisonous in some cases? Here is everything you need to know about the insects we call “daddy longlegs”, their venom and whether or not it’s dangerous for you.
Meet Daddy Longlegs
If you think you know what daddy longlegs are and how they look like, you may be very wrong. The name “daddy longlegs” is typically used to describe not just one, but two distinct kinds of insects that are similar in appearance but entirely different in nature.
The insects that are most accurately called “daddy longlegs” aren’t spiders but opiliones. They belong to one of the lower-level divisions of the arachnida class. Researchers have identified about 7,000 different opilione species. There are plenty of them in both hemispheres, in both temperate and tropical climates. These insects are also known as “harvestmen” since they are common in fields in the late summer.
These daddy longlegs have a small, pea-shaped body, two eyes and disproportionately long legs. They typically hide under rocks and prefer a more humid habitat. They consume vegetable waste, mites, snails and tiny insects. And unlike “real” spiders, they don’t spin webs.
What Are Daddy Longleg Spiders?
If you ever spot a daddy longleg in a dark corner of your cellar, this is most likely the other insect known as the cellar spider. It has long, sharply angled legs, a small head, and a slightly larger body. You can usually see it hanging upside down from a web.
If the daddy longleg you see looks like this, rest assured that you’ve encountered a cellar spider. These insects are officially known as pholcidae but are often called “daddy longlegs” because they resemble opiliones. In fact, this confusion is so common that cellar spiders are referred to as “daddy longleg spiders” even in scientific literature.
There are about 20 species of cellar spiders found in the United States and Canada. They are often seen as pests because they produce a lot of webs that might be difficult to remove. Daddy longleg spiders build their webs in the damp, dark corners of buildings, barns, sheds and storage facilities.
Do Daddy Longlegs Have Venom?
The answer is both yes and no. It depends on what insect we are talking about. Daddy longlegs, also known as harvestmen, don’t have fangs or venom glands. Despite being carnivorous insects, they don’t have venom. But some species have poison and can be toxic.
Being venomous and being poisonous are two very different things. A creature is venomous when it has specific glands for producing venom and can inject it through its fangs or stings. On the other hand, when something is poisonous, it contains a certain component that can have a toxic effect on another organism, typically when eaten.
Some species of non-spider daddy longlegs do have poisonous defensive secretions that can be toxic to small animals. But they are harmless to people and won’t cause poisoning even if you accidentally swallow one.
Cellar spiders, however, are a completely different story. These daddy longlegs do have venom.
How Dangerous is Daddy Longlegs Venom?
According to a popular urban legend, daddy longlegs are the world’s deadliest spiders, but their fangs are too short to pierce human skin. There is at least some truth in it because daddy longleg spiders do have venom.
In a 2019 study, researchers proved that the venom of daddy longleg spiders, Physocyclus mexicanus, is powerful enough to paralyze a cricket. But how dangerous is daddy longlegs venom for humans? Research suggests it’s harmless, though its potential to harm people has never been formally studied.
The fangs of a daddy longleg spider are long enough to pierce our skin, so yes, they can bite a person. Although there are few known cases of such bites, they exist and have been confirmed. A daddy longleg spider’s venomous bite typically causes a mild sting and has no lasting effects.
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