Dear Matthew Alice:
What's the deal with all these five- and six-legged spiders in my house? I've been seeing them for years.
-- Sue Beckman, Del Mar
Greetings from the East Coast:
...where the ragweed is as high as an elephant's thigh. Someone told me that the harvestmaster spider, the common little beast often called a daddy longlegs, actually has highly poisonous venom, some of the most toxic among the arachnids, but it is harmless to us because its fangs are too weak/short/whatever to penetrate human skin. Any truth to this elliptical factoid?
-- Tim, far away
A multitude of misinformation accepted as science by many, many people who really should know better. And the entomologists at UC-Riverside wish we’d get it right. 1. It’s harvestman, not harvestmaster. 2. “Daddy longlegs” is the common name for two different arachnids: the daddy longlegs spider and the harvestman. 3. A daddy longlegs spider is a spider; a harvestman looks like a spider but technically is not. 4. A daddy longlegs spider has venom, but it’s nothing to write home about; a harvestman has no venom. 5. Daddy longlegs spiders can’t bite us because they can’t open their mouths wide enough, not for any reason related to faulty fangs. 6. And finally, despite what CNN thinks, a factoid is not a small, random fact. That would be a factlet or factette or, for our Latino friends, a factito. According to my Funk ’n Webster, a factoid is an assertion that is presented as a fact, that many people believe is a fact, but isn’t a fact. Come to think of it, your friend’s spider story is the perfect example of a factoid. Almost forgot Sue. Your lopsided arachnids are wounded harvestmen. Their legs are very brittle and are inclined to snap off. So unless you have some as yet unidentified life form sharing your beachside bungalow, I’d guess you’ve got a lot of very clumsy harvestmen.