This was not a stellar year in the garden. Keeping things simple, I focused on just two crops: tomatoes and cucumbers. But in the past several weeks, the tomatoes got hammered with blight and the cucumbers finally succumbed to powdery mildew. By mid-August, any remaining hopes of even a minimal harvest were completely gone. When the syrphid flies that had filled the air finally moved on from the garden, I decided I should too; I began pulling dead plants from the ground and bagging them for destruction.
Which is when I saw the daddy long legs making a meal of a fly among the dead leaves. A pretty cool sight: how often do you get to see one of the world’s most poisonous spiders – whose fangs aren’t big enough to penetrate human skin – capturing and consuming prey?
Answer: you never get to see it. Harvestmen – aka “daddy long legs” – aren’t poisonous and don’t have fangs like other spiders. In fact, Harvestmen aren’t even spiders; same class of arthropods, completely different orders. They capture prey by ambush – not by web – and have been known to scavenge, feeding on small insects, plant matter, fungi, and the occasional bird poo. Harvestmen use their mouth parts to nibble little bits from their meal and consume it bite by bite; spiders use fangs to inject digestive fluids into their prey, tenderize it, and then ingest it like a milkshake through a straw.
What I saw in the garden detritus was most likely some opportunistic scavenging. The fly wasn’t moving at all; the Harvestmen had probably found the carcass and was figuring out the best way to start nibbling.
At least someone got a decent meal from the garden this year.
Bug Guide. Order Opiliones – Harvestmen, retrieved from www.bugguide.net/node/view/196
Cranshaw, W. (2004). Garden Insects of North America.
Wikipedia. Opiliones, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opiliones