The cellar spider or daddy longlegs (Pholcus phalangioides), also known as the skull spider due to its cephalothorax looking like a human skull, is a spider of the family Pholcidae. Females have a body length of about 9 mm; males are slightly smaller. Its legs are about 5 or 6 times the length of its body (reaching up to 7 cm of leg span in females). Its habit of living on the ceilings of rooms, caves, garages or cellars gives rise to one of its common names. In Australian homes, they are considered beneficial because it is sometimes believed they will kill and eat the venomous Redback spider.[1][2]

This is the only spider species described by the Swiss entomologist Johann Kaspar Füssli who first recorded it for science in 1775. Confusion often arises over its common name, because “daddy longlegs” is also applied to two other unrelated arthropods: the harvestman and the crane fly.

Pholcus phalangioides has the habit of shaking its web violently when disturbed as a defence mechanism against predators. They can easily catch and eat other spiders (even those much larger than itself, such as Tegenaria duellica), mosquitoes and other insects, and woodlice. When food is scarce, they will prey on their own kind.

Because they originally came from the tropics, these spiders do not seem to be aware of seasonal changes and breed at any time of the year. The female holds the 20 to 30 eggs in her pedipalps. Spiderlings are transparent with short legs and change their skin about 5 or 6 times as they mature.

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[edit] Venom

Female with egg sac

An urban legend states that Pholcidae are the most venomous spiders in the world, but because their fangs are unable to penetrate human skin, they are harmless to humans. However, recent research has shown that pholcid venom has a relatively weak effect on insects.[3] In the MythBusters episode “Daddy Long-Legs” it was shown that the spider’s fangs (0.25mm) could penetrate human skin (0.1mm) but that only a very mild burning feeling was felt for a few seconds.[4]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Daddy Long Legs – Queensland Museum
  2. ^ FAMILY PHOLCIDAE – Daddy long-leg Spiders
  3. ^ Spider Myths – If it could only bite
  4. ^ “Buried in Concrete, Daddy-Longlegs, Jet Taxi”, MythBusters, Episode 13, Discovery Channel, Original airing: February 15, 2004 [1]