July–August 2024

Minnesota Profile

Daddy longlegs (Opiliones species)

Learn more about this well-known critter that's neither spider nor insect.

Mary Hoff

Daddy longlegs earned their colloquial name with appendages that stretch far beyond the main part of their body. They are also known as harvestmen because they are commonly seen around harvest time, in late summer and early fall. Worldwide, scientists have identified more than 6,600 species of daddy longlegs. At least 21 of them are found in Minnesota.

Appearance. A body up to a half-inch long is suspended atop eight spindly legs. Unlike spiders, whose bodies have two distinct parts, the body of a daddy longlegs has more of a lentil-like appearance. Like spiders, they have eight legs. However, they use only their front two and back four legs for walking; the longer, second-from-the-front set serves as a pair of feelers that help them sense the environment around them. In Minnesota, daddy longlegs tend to have brownish coloration that helps them blend into their surroundings.

Neither Spider nor Insect. Daddy longlegs and spiders both are arachnids, but daddy longlegs are not spiders. Daddy longlegs lack the ability to make silk and spin webs. They don’t make venom or bite, as many spiders do. And they chew their meals rather than dissolving them in digestive juices and then sucking them up, as spiders do.

Habitat. Daddy longlegs live on every continent except Antarctica. They love to hang out in dark, damp, and secluded places during the daytime. While you’ll rarely see spiders spending time together, daddy longlegs are often found with others of their kind—sometimes in clusters so tight that they look almost like a tangled wad of fishing line.

Reproduction. Daddy longlegs go through several life stages including egg, a few molting stages of immature nymph, and adult. Eggs can take up to six months to hatch. In some species the males care for the eggs.

Eat and Be Eaten. Active mainly at night, these gangly creatures are mainly detrivores, feasting on organic matter, dead things, and plant material. Less often, they prey on small insects and other invertebrates. In turn, they are eaten by birds, amphibians, and mammals. Daddy longlegs are not venomous despite a common misconception that they are.

Playing Defense. An unpleasant chemical they give off when threatened helps protect daddy longlegs from predators. If a would-be diner grabs one, the daddy longlegs can shed a leg and then escape on the ones it has left. The severed leg continues to twitch, distracting the enemy and giving the daddy longlegs time to make its escape.