Sunday, 5 July 2009

Combined Harvestman

I trimmed off a few overhead branches from a sycamore in my garden today and got showered with a thousand aphids and a harvestman. Chasing the harvestman across the grass and up a tree set me thinking how little I really knew about them. The internet doesn't seem to deliver the goods on groups like this if you want to go beyond a few basic facts. The European Society of Arachnology has an online photo gallery but I have to say I am unable to identify this one from their photos. Any help would be appreciated.

It is easy enough to establish that harvestmen are arachnids but not true spiders; have a body in which the head, thorax and abdomen are combined into one; have just 2 simple eyes on a little turret on the top of the body; have no silk, no web, no fangs, no poison and that they have a cosmopolitan taste in invertebrates, alive or dead. on earth do they mate with all those legs? Time to turn to books and I can do no better than quote from a book that should be on everyone's shelf-Michael Chinery's 'Garden Creepy-Crawlies'!

'Mating is a casual and highly promiscuous business. The only preliminary is a bit of hand-holding but this is just to get them into the right face to face position. The male's long slender penis then bursts from his belly and snakes its way into the female. The animals stay together for no more than a few minutes, sometimes only seconds - and then they wander off as if nothing had happened' The things that go on right under your nose....

Oh, and they can survive losing 3 or 4 legs as long as it isn't the second pair from the front - which are always the longest in harvestmen. That's because these legs have special sensitive tips that the animal uses to find its way about by scent and touch.


  1. Might be Mitopus morio but markings can be very variable. Amazing animals, aren't they? Straight out of War of the Worlds. I like to image what the world might look like through the eyes of a harvestman. I had no idea they had such a colourful sex life........

  2. You might be right there Phil. Its confusing though. I looked up M. morio in a spider field guide and it looks completely different to the web site photos. Maybe I'll just enjoy the smiley face on its rear end instead! (second photo)