Science & Tech

Daddy longlegs have a global reach

1 min read

Ugly creatures prove to be valuable tools in study of evolution, diversity, and environmental management

Huge numbers of arachnid and insect species remain unknown. Arachnologists like Gonzalo Giribet, toiling in relative obscurity, routinely identify new species – and their work is far from over. Giribet, assistant professor of biology and assistant curator of invertebrates in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, has about 50 new species of daddy longlegs in his lab, some described, some in the process of being described. In particular, Giribet is an expert on daddy longlegs in the Cyphophthalmi suborder. These don’t closely resemble the daddy longlegs familiar to people living in New England. Though they’re in the same order, with the common name daddy longlegs, the familiar New England version is in a different suborder. Cyphophthalmi are much smaller, only between 1 and 6 millimeters long and, though they have a similar one-part body, have much shorter legs. There are two features of Cyphophthalmi that may make them valuable for scientists studying other topics. The creatures don’t stray far from home, making them good subjects for how evolutionary processes create new species. Another feature is that they are only found in forests relatively undisturbed by man. This may make them useful subjects for scientists studying environmental degradation and forest quality.