Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Not a tuft of hair

with 42 comments

Daddy Longlegs Clump Under Limestone Overhang 6801

On July 9th I checked out a large limestone overhang in the little-frequented southern part of Great Hills Park. On the underside of the overhang I noticed what appeared to be a large tuft of hair, though I knew it couldn’t be that. It turned out to be a bunch of daddy longlegs that had clustered in the way they seem fond of doing. Another name for daddy longlegs is harvestmen but another name for them isn’t spiders, because these creatures are in a different group of animals that you can read about in an article from Clemson University.

It’s rare that I aim my camera straight up, but this was one of those times. I do occasionally use flash, and I had to for this photograph because it’s always pretty dark under that limestone overhang. The wall of the overhang, by the way, was (and still is) the site of mud dauber wasp tubes that appeared in these pages two summers ago.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2014 at 5:45 AM

42 Responses

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  1. Cool shot but ewwwwwww!!! Now I feel itchy :).

    photosfromtheloonybin

    August 22, 2014 at 6:06 AM

    • You’re true to yourself, Cindy: a month ago, in reacting to the cast-off and dirty exoskeleton of a cicada,

      https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/exuviae-2

      you had the same reaction, even to the seven w’s, but this time you outdid yourself by closing with three exclamation marks rather than just one. That’s proof that your two-week vacation in Europe revved you up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 6:40 AM

    • By the way, if you check out my reply to shoreacres (two people after you), I don’t think you’ll have enough w’s and exclamation marks to express yourself.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 7:10 AM

  2. Wow, now this is very cool. I’ve not seen this before, so thanks!

    Tufts of hair can be a touchy subject for us elderly folks.

    Steve Gingold

    August 22, 2014 at 6:14 AM

    • You’re welcome. When viewed from the side, the clump of daddy longlegs looked dark and could be seen to hang down farther than this photograph would lead you to believe. The flash lit up all the spaces between the daddy-longlegs and also seems to have compressed distances, so you can’t tell that the daddy longlegs near the center were closer to the camera than the ones at the edges.

      As for your second comment, I’m reminded of an old pun: hair today, gone tomorrow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 6:52 AM

  3. I haven’t seen a daddy longlegs in a couple of years, but I always love finding them. A few times, I’ve seen one of these clusters pulsating as though it’s a single organism. Maybe it’s communication, maybe it’s just their version of party time. Lucky you, to find some, and lucky us to get to see them.

    shoreacres

    August 22, 2014 at 6:45 AM

    • Based on Cindy’s comment (the first one), I have a feeling some viewers aren’t nearly as sanguine as you are about these critters, especially in large numbers. This reminds me that a decade ago I got to tag along with a college science group on a visit to a cave near New Braunfels where research was being undertaken. Entrance to the cave was down a mostly vertical ladder through a relatively narrow opening, one person at a time, and as people descended, occasional clumps of daddy longlegs would fall on them.

      I’ve seen the pulsating behavior too. On a web page from Henderson State University at

      http://www.hsu.edu/pictures.aspx?id=1314

      I found this: “When disturbed, a single harvestman typically pushes its body up and down in a slow, vibrating motion. The large groups will perform the same behavior if disturbed, so the pulsating mass of harvestmen may be an even greater deterrent to potential predators. Furthermore, the defensive chemicals produced by a mass may be collectively more effective, so grouping might promote greater security while the aggregation rests or hibernates.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 7:07 AM

  4. Fabulous discovery and capture–especially the abstract design of the cluster.

    lensandpensbysally

    August 22, 2014 at 7:18 AM

    • In reality the clump hung down farther than you would think from the picture, where distances have been compressed. It’s that flash-lit compression that reveals the abstract design, something I never saw when I was at the site. Add this to other things over the years that became apparent only when looking at pictures on a computer monitor after the fact.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 7:26 AM

  5. Speaking of learning new things from folks, there’s always something new to learn here. I’m one who thought these critters were spiders. I’ve never seen them in a clump, either!

    Susan Scheid

    August 22, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    • You don’t know what you’ve been missing, Susan: get thee to a harvestmen hangout post haste so you can clump and pulse with the best of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 7:32 AM

  6. Yup … arthropod classification can be a bit of a lawyer’s game … as in, when is an arachnid not an arachnid? The proper answer is … when it belongs to one of the three other arachnid orders which are not representative of the true spiders (Araneae). Your harvestmen (Opiliones), the ticks (Acarina), and the scorpions (Scorpionida) are also arachnids which aren’t spiders. This is a terrific shot in that it records an unusual behavior, and with a bit of artistic vision. Good eye. Nice capture. When I first clicked on the image I had no idea what I was looking at … and I’m supposed to know this stuff … I’m a zoologist. D

    Pairodox Farm

    August 22, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    • Yay, let’s hear it for art. The flash brought out a blue-grey color in the limestone that the relative darkness of the site kept me from discerning when I was there but which I appreciate now as an unaccustomed backdrop for the harvestmen.

      For many, arachnid = spider, but as you point out, there are three other groups of arachnids. For one reason or another all four groups seem to arouse revulsion in most people, but photographically and of course zoologically they’re all fascinating.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 8:53 AM

  7. Not a tuft of hair and not a hair ball either. Just some long legs hanging out together. Another more popular Daddy Long Legs is this one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daddy-Long-Legs_%28novel%29 Wish I knew where my copy was hanging out.

    Gallivanta

    August 22, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    • I read that book when I was a teenager, though even after going through the plot summary in the article you linked to I couldn’t remember much about it now. I hope you find your missing copy. When James Michener wrote his large and best-selling novel Hawaii he named one of his characters Jerusha—I remember that detail from half a century ago—but I don’t know if there’s any connection to the Jerusha in Daddy-Long-Legs. Michener (who lived in Austin) isn’t around to ask, having died some years ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 9:03 AM

      • I read Hawaii when I was a teenager and I don’t remember a character called Jerusha. I did enjoy the story. I suspect my copy of Daddy Long Legs is somewhere in my garage/store-room. Also in my garage are lots of Daddy Long Legs spiders. They think it is their territory and nothing will persuade them otherwise. http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/researchattepapa/enquiries/spidersweb/what/pages/daddylonglegs.aspx Occasionally one of them will try coming to set up residence inside the house but they get sent back out swiftly.

        Gallivanta

        August 22, 2014 at 8:18 PM

        • The character in Hawaii was Jerusha Bromley, who married Abner Hale.

          It can be confusing to have a fly, a harvestman, and a spider all called daddy longlegs. Craneflies (the flies in question) are common in Austin in the spring. Many people mistake them for large mosquitoes but thankfully they don’t bite. Sounds like you’re not giving your daddy longlegs spiders a chance to bite much of anything either, at least not inside your house.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 22, 2014 at 10:04 PM

          • Ah, and the helpful Mr Google, let me discover that we have many craneflies in New Zealand. I have met the beastie but didn’t know what it was called.

            Gallivanta

            August 22, 2014 at 10:11 PM

      • Another tenuous link between Austin and Christchurch via Michener http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Until_They_Sail

        Gallivanta

        August 22, 2014 at 8:20 PM

        • The cable television channel Turner Classic Movies showed “Until They Sail” last year, and I think I caught only the first part of it. If I become aware that they’re showing it again I’ll try to watch it all the way through.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 22, 2014 at 10:08 PM

          • I have only seen clips of it on youtube. I don’t know how closely it follows the original story. I only discovered it because I was curious about Hollywood films with NZ connections. Sir Peter Jackson was not the first to put NZ on the Hollywood map, it seems.

            Gallivanta

            August 22, 2014 at 10:17 PM

  8. What a sight – very awesome shot!

    photoleaper

    August 22, 2014 at 10:40 AM

  9. Jim in IA

    August 22, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    • That’s certainly weird, all right. I see it was from a post about survival, and it demonstrates that daddy longlegs are scavengers, even of things much larger than they are.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 1:17 PM

  10. I have never seen something like it ever! Absolutely amazing shot! Fabulous gathering in a shape of an almost perfect heart, I guess love is in the air!

    marksshoesbyevamarks

    August 22, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    • We’re on the same wavelength because I noticed the heart-like shape too. Whether the daddy longlegs felt feelings of love, though, I’m not in a position to know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 1:19 PM

  11. This is also the first time I’ve ever seen them cluster as well. You wrote: …”in the way they seem fond of doing…”–have you seen this behavior several times before? They (both the long- and the short-legged varieties) are common around our lake cabin in Minnesota, but they’re nearly always solitary.

    krikitarts

    August 22, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    • Yes, I’ve often seen daddy longlegs cluster like this. In fact I think I’ve seen clumps of them at least as often as I’ve seen individuals. From what you say about your experience in Minnesota, perhaps some species are more communal than others.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 2:44 PM

  12. Almost heart shaped! I have dozens of these daddy longlegs in my house for some reason and because of them, lots of cobwebs. We have high ceilings and they seem to live in the corners. I hope they do something useful!

    Heyjude

    August 22, 2014 at 3:31 PM

    • I didn’t notice the heart-like pattern at the time I took the picture, but it jumped out at me when I saw the image on my computer monitor.

      If you have cobwebs they’re coming from other sources because daddy longlegs aren’t spiders. Like you, I’ve noticed that daddy longlegs seem to like corners and other out-of-the-way places, probably to avoid predators. From what I’ve read, they’re scavengers, so they may keep your place freer of dead insects and other small critters.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2014 at 3:37 PM

      • They must be sharing their space with spiders then. Do they only eat dead things?

        Heyjude

        August 22, 2014 at 4:36 PM

        • Here’s what the article from Clemson University has to say about that: “Daddy-longlegs are generally beneficial. They have a very broad diet that includes spiders and insects, including plant pests such as aphids. Daddy-longlegs also scavenge for dead insects and will eat bird droppings.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 22, 2014 at 7:00 PM

          • OK. I shall stop sweeping them away, sounds like they do a better job of cleaning up than I do!

            Heyjude

            August 23, 2014 at 6:35 AM

  13. Wow!

    Pamela Breitberg

    August 23, 2014 at 5:58 PM

  14. Incredible. I always felt sorry for them as a child, as other children would pick their legs off for fun. Don’t see them around so much anymore.

    Emily Scott

    August 24, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    • Yes, children can be cruel, and unfortunately for these creatures, their legs come off easily. In any case, I’m glad you like this unusual view.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2014 at 10:36 AM

  15. This is amazing! Fantastic pic!

    Pam

    August 26, 2014 at 8:02 PM

  16. […] mud dauber wasp tubes some of you may remember from five years ago. Two years after that, I showed something that wasn’t a tuft of hair on the underside of the […]


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