Myth: A "daddy-longlegs" is a kind of spider

Illustration: Henry C. McCook
Illustration: Henry C. McCook

Myth: A "daddy-longlegs" is a kind of spider.

Fact: This is a tricky one. Unfortunately, different people call completely different creatures by the "daddy" term.

Most Americans who spend time outdoors use the term for long-legged harvestmen (below, right), which are ground-dwelling outdoor creatures. Harvestmen are arachnids, but they are not spiders -- in the same way that butterflies are insects, but they are not beetles. Harvestmen have one body section (spiders have two), two eyes on a little bump (most spiders have eight), a segmented abdomen (unsegmented in spiders), no silk, no venom, a totally different respiratory system, and many other differences; not all have long legs.

The British, some Canadians, and some southeastern Americans use the "daddy" term for long-legged flies (crane flies, family Tipulidae) (below, left), which are insects. That usage is found in Edward Lear's famous nonsense poem "The Daddy-Longlegs and the Fly."

Finally, people who seldom venture outdoors may only have seen one long-legged arachnid, the house spider Pholcus phalangioides(below, center), and use the "daddy" term for that. So there is one "daddy-longlegs" that is a spider, and a couple of thousand species that are not spiders.

Confusing, isn't it? I think so too; in fact, it's so confusing that the "daddy" term really doesn't mean anything, and it would be better to just forget it and say "harvestman" when you mean harvestman. Click here to jump to a popular urban legend about harvestmen.

Will the real "daddy-longlegs" please stand up?

That confusing term is used for all these widely different creatures: (left) a crane fly, Tipula sp.; (center) a pholcid house spider, Pholcus phalangioides; (right) a harvestman, Metaphalangium albounilineatum (one of many similar harvestman species). Insects have their myths too: crane flies are not giant mosquitoes—and they don't eat mosquitoes either!

Spider Myths

"Everything that 'everybody knows' about spiders is wrong!" —Rod Crawford sets the record straight with Spider Myths.


illustrations of a crane fly, house spider and a harvestman to compare them next to each other

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close up of a spider

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Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum