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Scorpions Spiders Mites and Ticks: Arachnida

Common Harvestman (phalangium Opilio): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: The small, round bodies of common harvestmen are 0.14 to 0.35 inches (3.5 to 8.9 millimeters) in length; males typically are smaller than females. The back has various patterns and ranges in color from light gray to brown, while the underside is usually light cream colored. Both body regions are divided into segments and are joined together. Two eyes directed outward are located on top of the front body region. The common harvestman has eight very long, thin legs. These insects lack venom glands and the ability to produce silk.

Geographic range: The common harvestman lives in North America, Europe, and the temperate regions, or regions with a mild climate, of Asia.

Habitat: The common harvestman is found in gardens, parks, vacant lots, forests, woodlands, and agricultural areas.

This common harvestman is scavenging a dead honeybee. (Arthur V. Evans. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Harvestmen feed on small, soft-bodied invertebrates (in-VER-teh-brehts), or animals without backbones, such as aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers, beetle larvae, mites, and slugs. They also feed on dead invertebrates and decaying plant materials, such as rotted fruit.

Behavior and reproduction: Harvestmen are active in summer and fall. At night they sometimes gather in large groups on the trunks of trees, with their legs intertwined. They fend off predators (PREH-duhters), or animals that hunt them for food, with a smelly, harmless fluid from scent (SENT) glands located between the first and second pairs of legs. When they are attacked, harvestmen will purposely detach a leg. The twitching limb distracts the predator until the harvestman can escape. The lost leg cannot be replaced.

Mating takes place face to face, with the male placing sperm directly into the female's body. Females lay clusters of ten to several hundred eggs in moist areas on the ground, under rocks, in cracks in soil, or in leaf litter in the autumn. One or two generations of insects are produced each year. The young hatch in spring. They look very much like the adults but have slightly shorter legs in proportion to their body size. They usually undergo seven molts, reaching maturity in two to three months.

Harvestmen and people: Harvestmen help control insect and mite pests that feed on cultivated crops. They are harmless to humans.

Conservation status: This species is not endangered or threatened. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceInsects and SpidersScorpions Spiders Mites and Ticks: Arachnida - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Arachnids And People, Hair Follicle (fah-lih-kuhl) Mite (demodex Folliculorum): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, CONSERVATION STATUS