Excerpt from Valley 101: Great Big Book of Life, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published April 9, 2004.)
Q: I have heard the daddy longlegs is the most poisonous spider in the country, but its jaws are too weak to penetrate human skin. Is that true?
A: Huh? The daddy longlegs? Are we talking about the same spider? The one with the long, skinny legs and the little body? Poisonous?
Heavenly days, I just don’t know who puts ideas like this in the heads of you people. Sometimes I think that if it weren’t for this column and Insects of the Southwest by Floyd Werner and good old Carl Olson, some of you people would get so bad off that finally you’d just forget to breathe.
Daddy longlegs aren’t even really spiders. They’re related to spiders, scorpions and ticks, but they aren’t really spiders. Spiders have fangs. Daddy longlegs don’t have fangs. Spiders are venomous to one degree or another. Daddy longlegs are not venomous.
So let’s review: A) Not really a spider. B) No fangs. C) No venom. All these things very much work against the idea that the daddy longlegs is the most venomous spider in the country.
Daddy longlegs like dark, damp places or a nice, lush garden.
They mostly eat insects and the like, and they defend themselves by throwing off some awful-smelling secretion. And if one of those long legs gets caught in a spider web, a daddy longlegs just snaps it off and goes on about its business.
All this does raise the question of exactly which spider around here is the most venomous. Beats me. I suppose it’s either the black widow or the Arizona brown spider.
Neither one of them is likely to kill you, but the bite of a brown spider can be very nasty indeed.