The Frustrating, Beloved, Daddy Long Legs
His Life, a Few Days of Passion
Can there be a creature better or more fondly named in the whole animal kingdom that the Daddy-Longlegs? This is the insect whose name has inspired novels, movies, poems, and legions of kids everywhere he visits, saying as one, “Oooooo, spider! Oh, no, it’s only a daddy longlegs, don’t kill it, dad!” So dad rushes all round the house pursuing the eccentric insect as it bounces off walls, zooms up to the ceiling, only to drop like a stone behind the wardrobe where it rests, forgotten, until it begins it’s nutty, herky-jerky flight again. Such a fragile little mite, too. Careful dad! As it is cupped in shaking hands, finally cornered, panicked and whirring in the palm, a stick-like leg flying off so easily…
Most people know the Daddy Longlegs is really the Crane Fly, or Tipulidae, to get the effing Latin out of the way. It is, as we can observe, a long-legged fly, resembling a large mosquito, some 60 mm long, max. It is known in many countries: as Daddy Longlegs in the UK, Australia, S. Africa, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, and in similar, affectionate and/or descriptive names in other nations it also calls home. In Mexico, they call them “Zancudos,” they also apply the title to passing, sexy chicks with extra long legs; plus an appreciative whistle.
Several spiders are also similar in appearance to the DLL, all innocuous and harmless to man. This, despite urban legend that says daddy longleg venom is the most potent in the spider kingdom, a mindless invention that has surely caused many to be crushed on sight. They aren’t arachnids, of course, have no venom at all, and neither they, not the arachnid that does resemble them and is venomous to its prey, the Harvestman, has biting equipment that can puncture our tough skin, nor any interest or intention of doing so. (Please note that the Harvesman is not a spider, but closely related).
Another legend that favours the DLL, but is also unfortunately completely untrue is that the creature eats mosquitoes. There are some 14,000 species, and there may well be tropical ‘daddies that can eat other insects, but nowhere in the temperate zones. They only live for a matter of days, if they are extremely lucky, and during this brief time they only sip nectar if anything at all.
Daddy longlegs are known variously as mozzie hawks, mozzie eaters, gallsappers, golly whoppers, jimmy spinners, et al, depending on what region of their territory you are in. None of these names rival the original nickname , in my opinion, but are a little easier to say if you’re in a hurry to reassure the kids, or organize a hunting party to eject him into the garden.
The larvae of this dizzy fellow is almost as well known and beloved to the kids as the flying stage: yes, the Leatherjacket. (Don't confuse with the Woodlouse, "Pillbugs," a crustacean, that rolls up tight like an Armadillo. I just did, and had to change the hub quickly...Thanks, Wikipedia!). But these grubs eat roots and a plague of them can destroy your lawn. As they began to do at Lord’s Cricket Ground in 1935, where sere, dead patches began to appear all over the wicket, until ground staff organized an army and burned thousands of them. It was reported to be a spinner’s (bowler type) wicket at Lord’s for several years afterwards until the war gave the beleaguered staff a break and allowed the pitch to recover. Modern technology and hardy grass types allows us to re-turf much more easily these days.
The daddy longlegs is the anachronism of the insect world, harming nothing itself and perhaps living a dream only it could find rewarding (like all of us I suppose); it is targeted by birds, other spiders and insects and all sorts of fungal disease. Probably a good thing in a way, otherwise we would have a choking blizzard of them all over the world. It is so fragile, its legs can break off even before any one touches it while it is trying - ineffectively - to escape a clutching hand. “Oh!” a child wails, mortified, a tear forming in one eye, clutching the torn limb, “I didn’t mean to hurt it, mum!!”
All daddy longlegs are really doing in your house, or riding the breezes in the garden are looking for a mate, so they can procreate and then, their evolutionary function done, fall and die. Their heady passion only lasts hours or, at best, days. Byron must have loved them. “To love deeply before we die,” he might have said, or something similar and very Byronesque. Isn’t that what most of us want?
Note: The term daddy longlegs, or grandaddy longlegs is often applied to an arachnid (but not a spider) the Harvestman. Also known as the Cellar Spider, the Vibrating Spider or even the house spider. The clue is no wings, arachnids don't have them. They can be handled like a daddy long legs, they are harmless to you (and very nervous, actually). They have a web and imitate spiders in their habits, indeed, are very close relatives. Very beneficial: these DO eat mozzies!