Saturday, September 26, 2009

War of the Worlds





Harvestmen are animals that could have stepped straight out of a science fiction story. That globular body, slung between unfeasibly long angular legs, could easily be a Martian fighting machine, striding through hordes of fleeing, terrorised refugees in War of the Worlds....... or maybe I’ve got an overactive imagination..... but check out the CD cover for Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds (see http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/bestselling-music-2007/3826-1.jpg) and I think you’ll see what I mean.


You do need a pretty vivid imagination to come close to understanding how these strange animals perceive their surroundings. Those two eyes, on either side of the turret on top of their body, are not particularly effective and they mostly explore their surroundings using their senses of taste and smell, which are located on their palps, on either side of their mouth (just visible behind the front leg in the picture above - double-click on the image for a larger view)), and on their second pair of legs. Notice how, in the pictures above and below, this harvestman is lifting and extending one of its second pair of legs towards the camera – it’s smelling me. They take great care of that vital second pair of legs and if you watch one of these animals for long enough you’ll notice that it will draw each of this pair of legs through its jaws quite frequently, to keep these sensory limbs clean and in tip-top condition.



There are scores of these intriguing animals in our garden at the moment, striding through the dry grass and dead leaves in that cautious, fastidious way in which they move, searching for small insects to feed on amongst the decaying vegetation of autumn.

 




12 comments:

  1. Hi Adrian,harvestmen tend to be quite slow moving, so there's plenty of time to get a close look......

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  2. Fascinating Phil and very informative. Great macro hots.

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  3. Fascinating insects Phil, and your description fits them perfectly. Martian invaders.
    Great shots too.
    Had a few join me indoors recently lol

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  4. I agree Phil - they are totally intriguing. Did you manage to get an identification on this one? I've struggled with harvestman before (http://standandstare-nyctalus.blogspot.com/2009/07/combined-harvestman.html#comments) and have struggled again to match yours to either the web site I quote in my post or the only spider field guide I have. Do you know of a decent field identification guide or web site?

    According to Dick Jones' Field Guide to Spiders there are 27 species of harvestmen in Northern Europe 'all of which are identifiable in the field'. Well you could have fooled me! The photos he gives are just not that helpful.

    I suppose the fact that they are troublesome to identify adds to their mystery.

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  5. Thanks John, they're remarkable animals.. at the moment several seem to have taken to livinf on my garage door during the daytime.

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  6. Hi Keith, they're supposed to produce foul-tasting secretions that keep birds at bay but I've often watched robins in my garden collecting them

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  7. Hi Nyctalus, I think it's Mitopus morio, a very variable sopecies with pronounced differences in body size between males and females. British Harvestmen by JHP Sankey and TH Savory (Synopses of the British Fauna (New series) published by the Linnean Society in 1974 has a lot about their biology, useful keys and detailed species descriptions. It also describes how they are known to like marmalade and have been seen drinking red ink from ink wells. The long-out-of-print Land Invertebrates by JL Cloudsley-Thompson and John Sankey (1961) is also a very useful guide to all terrestrial creepy-crawlies

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  8. Thanks for the tips Phil. I see that there is now a second edition of the 'British Harvestman' book but with a price tag of £29 I guess I'll just have to struggle on - though I might try a marmalade trap in the garden tonight...

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  9. Hi Nyctalus,you might well find a copy in a university library... it's a very slim volume to £29 is pretty extortionate...

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  10. Hello, I found you on "Wildlife on Wheels". What fabulous information about this spider. Amazing creatures. Great pictures as well.

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  11. Thanks for your kind comments oldcrow61 - I find them amazing too - I love the fastidious way that they explore their surroundings

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