Black on Black

8 Mar
Face view of camouflaged daddy-longlegs spider.

A cryptic black harvestman blending in to the scorched bark of a tree in a post-wildfire zone in the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona.

One interesting ecological factor to explore in the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona is the vast areas that have been swept by wildfires in the past few years.  For example, the Horseshoe 2 wildfire in 2011 was the fifth largest wildfire in Arizona history, affecting more than 220,000 acres.  When I visited the mountains, acres of still-scorched trees surrounded by wildflowers and new growth sat side by side with untouched forest and thick underbrush making for an interesting environmental mosaic.  In some of the burned habitat I spotted the above harvestman blending in perfectly with the scorched bark–perhaps a something of a lucky break for this species?

Black daddy-longlegs spider on burned tree.

Camouflaged black harvestemen on burned tree.

Havestmen, more commonly called daddy longlegs, are a type of arachnid in the order Opiliones.  Although they are often mistaken for spiders harvestmen have very different biology and morphology, with a single pair of eyes, a wide connection between head and body, and no venom glands!  In addition, many opilionids are omnivores and scavengers, eating all manner of small insects, fungi, plant material, dead things, and even feces.  One other cool fact– paternal care has evolved in 5 independent lineages of Opiliones (Machado 2007).

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