a mediateam website

See a sample issue of The Irish Garden!

August 2013 harvestman

To see a sample of the current issue of Ireland's best-selling gardening magazine, click the image below.

Accessing from an iPad? This edition is designed for PC and Mac access using Flash, which is not supported by the iPad. To access the iPad edition, search 'The Irish Garden' in the Apple app store.


Nature Garden Dick Warner

Long-legged harvestmen!

These curious spider relatives are fascinating creatures, writes Dick Warner


Harvestmen are common in most gardens, and sometimes found in houses, but they are often mistaken for spiders. Like spiders, they are arachnids with eight legs but there are some fundamental differences. The most obvious one is that their legs are much longer and thinner, allowing them to skate lightly across flimsy vegetation. Also their bodies are not segmented, the head, thorax and abdomen are fused into one blob. And they only have two eyes, while spiders have eight.

Another source of confusion is that in some parts of the world, particularly in the United States, they are called daddy-long-legs, a name we normally use for the crane fly, which is not related. They are interesting creatures and seventeen species have been recorded in Ireland. They have been well surveyed and the results are available on the website of the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

They are definitely a good thing to have in your garden, despite the fact that they are occasionally listed as a pest species. They have a very varied diet but the staple is small invertebrates, such as insects, slugs, worms and small spiders. However, as well as live prey, they have been reported feeding on decaying plant and animal matter, fungi and bird droppings. A man I came across on the Internet keeps them in a terrarium and successfully feeds them on scraps of bread, butter and fatty meat.

They have no fangs or venom and are unable to spin webs so they rely on speed and agility to catch their prey in hooks on the ends of their legs. They can shed these legs as an escape mechanism but the consequences of doing so may be rather drastic, particularly if it's one of the second set of legs. This is because they have complex sensory organs on them, acting as ears, nose, tongue and possibly supplementary eyes. Another defence mechanism they have is to emit a stinking odour if they're captured.

They have an odd habit of gathering together in clusters, from time to time, with their legs linked together. This usually happens close to a source of water. The reason for this behaviour isn't fully understood but, like flocking in birds or shoaling in fish, it's probably to increase an individual's chance of survival if a predator attacks. Birds like to eat harvestmen.

Harvestmen moult every ten days or so. This is not an easy process as they have to extract eight long legs from the old exoskeleton and it usually takes about twenty minutes to accomplish, during which time they are particularly vulnerable to predators. Females have larger bodies and shorter legs than males. They lay one batch of eggs a year, usually in moist soil, and these over-winter in the ground and hatch the following spring. In some species the males look after the eggs through the winter, guarding them against predators and cleaning them.

Harvestmen will occupy a wide range of habitat in your garden, though some species specialise in living in trees and shrubs. Keep an eye out for them, a magnifying glass will help to reveal some of the finer details. But be very careful if you handle one - it can't hurt you, but you can do a lot of damage to it if you force it to shed one of those amazing legs.



Garden.ie Members

Not a member yet?
Join now to:

Join Now

Existing Members

Forgotten password

Garden.ie CLUB

Join Ireland's first online garden club! Share pictures of your garden, make new friends and chat with other gardeners. It's simple to join and free! Register Here

Featured Members

a mediateam website

©2018 Garden.ie. Mediateam Ltd, Media House, South County Business Park, Leopardstown, Dublin 18.

Tel (+353 1) 2947777 Email info@garden.ie

Website Design by KCO.ie