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Schrader Center Junior Naturalists Make an Interesting Discovery!

As Schrader Center Junior Naturalists, this is our fifth weak of volunteering this summer and our first blog post.  Within the last five weeks, we have found a lot of cool discoveries, and we can’t believe it has been this long!  Today, we decided to share the experience we had with a cicada we found while clearing out wood from an archery course.  While moving a log, one of our Junior Naturalists, Amelia, found a strange looking creature lurking in the ground.  After digging it out, and placing it lightly on a glove, she called over our instructor, Erica, who confirmed that it was a cicada!  After snapping a photo, we headed back to our office to find more information.  Using a new thing called the internet (you’ve probably never heard of it), we discovered that it was an “annual cicada”. These are different than the periodical cicadas. Periodical cicadas spend the first 17 years of their lives underground and emerge all at the same time in large swarms.Nymph4-29-07A

We scavenged some insect and wildlife books from around the building, and pulled out our nature journals to take notes.  We gathered tons of interesting facts!  For example, did you know that adult male cicadas only live for about a week?  Imagoes, another word for adult cicadas, look for mates by spending their time in trees and singing. When a male sings, females respond, which in turn triggers mating, and the cycle of life begins. Cicadas make their trademark mechanical buzz with an organ called a tymbal. The tymbal is made up of a thick membrane set in the chamber of the insect’s thorax. As the membrane vibrates, the sound resonates and amplifies, creating the cicada’s song. As you can see, we have a lot of fun, and make tons of new discoveries every day!

See you soon,

The Junior Naturalists

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Dispelling the Daddy Long Legs Myth

“Daddy Long Legs are one of the most poisonous spiders, but their fangs are too short to bite humans. But if they could, they would be deadly.”

daddylonglegsHave you heard this common myth?  This creature has long held on to this untrue legacy. While the Daddy Long Legs or Harvestman is in the Order of arachnids, having eight legs, so do scorpions, mites and ticks. True spiders have two segments or body parts; the cephalothorax (Greek for head-body) and the abdomen or gut. The abdomen of true spiders also has spinnerets for producing silk for web making.  Daddy Long Legs (of the Order Opiliones) have a fused cephalothorax and abdomen, or a single body part, and do not possess spinnerets. They do not produce silk and webs.  If you see one in a web it has probably fallen victim to a true spider.  Other differences are that Opiliones have no venom glands in their chelicerae (mouth parts), where true spiders have both fangs and venom.

Daddy Long Legs or Harvestman are opportunistic, and may eat other small insects but their primary diet is that of a decomposer, eating dead plants and fungi and sometimes dead animal material. That is why you will find them under dead logs and in other dead forest and garden debris. Since they lack venom glands, fangs or any other mechanism for chemically subduing their food, they do not have poison and, by the powers of logic, cannot be poisonous from venom.

How do Daddy Long Legs defend themselves from their predators? There are two ways besides outrunning them. First, in their limited arsenal of self-defense is the art of distraction.  If a leg is lost (some species may have the ability to throw off their legs) the separated leg will twitch for a few minutes. Some species’ legs have been recorded to twitch for up to an hour. The twitching is an adaptation designed to hold the attention of the predator while the Daddy Long Legs escapes to safety. A final defense found in some types of Daddy Long Legs is their ability to secrete a substance with a strong odor from their abdomen to discourage the predator. This secretion may be poisonous if eaten.  I could not find any studies on how many or much of this substance a mammal would have to consume to be affected.

In summary, you are safe to capture and observe Daddy Long Legs to your heart’s content and should not suffer any negative consequences, as long as you do not eat them!  –By Robin Lee, Education Programming Coordinator