Thursday, June 2, 2011

Harvestmen: Performing Public Service for Free

I like spiders. No, not enough to own a tarantula, but enough that I’ll tolerate small ones living in my apartment. Most insects don’t get the same courtesy from me, and definitely not other arachnids like scorpions or ticks (neither of which I’ve ever seen in there, fortunately.) But if I see a big spider, rather than grab the nearest shoe and hammer it into oblivion, I’ll trap it with a disposable food container and release it outside. Sometimes, I’ll carry them out there by the strand of silk they’re releasing to get away from me.

I understand that my lack of arachnophobia means that I’ll probably be killed by a venomous spider at some point, but I like my eight-legged friends. They sit in the corners where the wall meets the ceiling—a veritable highway for ants—and trap smaller creatures as they travel through my apartment looking to infest things. My wife hates it. She wants me to get rid of them.

This leaves me in a kind of Joe’s Apartment situation, but instead of cockroaches, they’re little, translucent, immobile spiders hanging out, doing their own thing. I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me, I let them eat ants. You see, there seem to be ants living in the walls at my apartment. I’ve spent two years caulking up every crack and hole I can find so they’ll stop streaming into my abode by the thousands to eat cat food, garbage, soda, and soap. Yes, soap. They found a crack in the tile of my shower and tried to run away with my Irish Spring.

This symbiotic relationship I have with the little guys goes beyond my apartment. I appreciate everything they do for us in general. They’re like nature’s pest control, doing their part to reduce the ant population among other insects I’m probably not aware of. Without them, we’ll have more pests trying to run into our living space.

And contrary to popular belief, spiders are extremely harmless. Almost none of them bite, and the ones that do want to be far, far away from you. They don’t spread disease the way that cockroaches do, and their webs are actually an extremely rich source of protein. Just kidding about that last part.

Look how happy he is!
Actually, one of the most harmless and friendly arachnids is the harvestman, though it’s not a spider. You probably know it as the Daddy Long Legs if you live in North America. They’re the ones with the tiny little bodies and the long, skinny legs you see roaming around in the summertime, feeling the ground with their two extra-long front legs like a little blind arachnid tapping the street to make sure it’s safe to cross. (By the way, harvestmen differ from spiders mainly in that their abdomen and cephalothorax are fused, giving their bodies a circular look.)

If spiders are nature’s pest control, then harvestmen are nature’s garbagemen. They don’t produce silk, so they can’t spin webs; they’re not very fast so they can’t really jump on other insects; instead of eight eyes, they’ve only got two which don’t really serve much purpose anyway, hence the front legs doubling as white canes.

They don’t even produce venom. I know this might be shocking to you, since you’ve probably been told that they’re the most venomous creature on Earth, but that their teeth are too short to bite humans. It’s a good story, but just about as untrue as they get.

Instead, they just roam around until they feel something food-like, then eat it. This could be bacteria, mold, dead insects, slow-moving live insects, and even small dead vertebrates. They’re basically tapping around in the wild trying to find something to clean up.

Those legs really define their lives, but they also save them. When a predator is nearby, they don’t fight, because they don’t really have the means to. No, their survival method involves detaching a leg and leaving it twitching on the ground, distracting the predator while they quickly make their escape, exiting stage left. The predator is apparently so confused by this action that they just let the crazy bastard go.

I appreciate the public service that these creatures perform, which is why I don’t stomp them into the dirt like my friends did when I was young. My brother used to pick them up and carry them around by their legs to disturb people, a relocation method I use today when I find them in places they’re not supposed to be, such as my living room, or my wife’s hair.

I know that my tolerance for spiders and harvestmen can be disturbing for some, but I really feel that they deserve to live. They’re helping me, not harming me, and they’re an important part of the ecosystem. Even if they invade your home, even if they get big and ugly, even if they actually do have venom that can make your hand swell up to double its normal size resulting in amputation, they really mean you no harm. They just want to go about their lives and reproduce. Is that too much to ask?

1 comment:

  1. I’ll carry them out there by the strand of silk they’re releasing to get away from me.Earths Best Pest Control Service