What’s this lurking in the grass?

A harvestman (Leiobunum townsendi) walking through the grass (2009_10_03_030248)

With all those spindly legs holding up a body that seems too heavy for such frail appendages, of course it’s a harvestman, an arachnid sometimes in North America called a daddy longlegs.

I most vividly remember them from my childhood.  When I was perhaps ten years old, my siblings and I discovered two gigantic masses of them attached to the outside of a house.  Many thousands of individuals huddled together such that it looked like two football-sized bundles of black hair tucked in just beneath the roof.

And when disturbed?  They swarmed in every direction and climbed anything they came in contact with.  That elicited more than a few screams from two of my siblings (I won’t name names, though).

A harvestman (Leiobunum townsendi) walking through the grass (2009_10_03_030274)

This species, Leiobunum townsendi, is new to me.  In truth, harvestmen lack in-depth scientific study and most species remain difficult to identify as few resources are available to assist with the effort.

Though fewer than 20 known species reside in Texas, pinning down a name to go with the legs still proved near impossible.  I suspect the same amount of research would yield even fewer clues were I attempting to identify most of the other species found here.

A harvestman (Leiobunum townsendi) walking through the grass (2009_10_03_030275)

Though they are arachnids, harvestmen are not spiders—just as scorpions are arachnids but are not spiders.

According to urban legend, these creatures are the most venomous animals on the planet but either have mouths too small or teeth too short to pierce human skin.  The truth is: they are harmless, completely lack venom, and rarely bite even when handled.  And if they do happen to bite—which really is so rare as to be unheard of—they lack the ability to pierce the skin and can only give a wee pinch at best.

A harvestman (Leiobunum townsendi) walking through the grass (2009_10_03_030265)

Unlike spiders who must drink their food, harvestmen can eat solids.  Most are omnivorous, some are scavengers, and others are predators. 

Texas has three endangered species of harvestman, all three being troglobites (cave dwellers).

A harvestman (Leiobunum townsendi) walking through the grass (2009_10_03_030270)

No matter how much I tried to get the whole critter in the frame, each time I did the poor thing became too small to recognize.  This individual easily was larger than my hand, though ignoring its legs meant it was as small as the fingernail on my ring finger.

11 thoughts on “Harvestman”

  1. Wonderful photos. I spent many years working in the Research Library of the Australian Museum and we had a scientist, Glen Hunt, sadly now deceased, who worked on Harvestmen, presumably Australian ones. Huge research project there for someone.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Carol! I’m glad you like the photos. I was shocked as I researched the ID on this harvestman. There’s so little information out there. Even some of the scientific journals state clearly that very little has been done in this area. Sure makes putting a name with a face rather difficult…

  2. I came upon a male/female pair in the process of transferring a sperm package. I got the camera setup with the 65mm macro and had gotten in real close. Right when I was about to start firing shots I accidentally disturbed them. They broke apart and started running around, and no amount of coaxing them back together could get them to resume their “act”. Arghh!

    1. That’s hysterical, Ted! Absolutely hilarious! I can picture you trying to convince them that the interruption was unintentional and they could get back to their business. And all the while they just want to get away.

      It’s obvious you ruined the mood. Next time try candles and soft music. Or strawberries and champagne. Or, well, whatever works for harvestmen under these circumstances.

      1. Man, it was so frustrating – I had a gorgeous view of the sperm package right smack in the middle of the viewfinder. In fact, I was already writing the post in my head – I was actually toying with the title “Oral sex”!

    1. Wow, Kurt, those are great photos! And night macro? Impressive.

      It does look like a young harvestman. Though if my experience is any indication, you’re probably not having much luck with the ID. Amazing how little material is out there about these critters…

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