• Kirk Mason

Daddy long-legs! Is it a spider? Is it a harvestman? Is it a fly?

Every year, short-lived but massive congregations of flying insects emerge, often seen reproducing in flight and providing an easy meal for many of our native predators. Despite how numerous this fly is, it’s often misidentified! Part of the difficulty is tied to its common name – daddy long-legs!

So why is this a problem? Common names can lead to misidenfication or myths around behaviour. In the case of daddy long-legs there are actually several rather different invertebrates that take this common name: the cellar spider, harvestmen and craneflies!

In some parts of the world craneflies are also known as mosquito hawks, which has led to a common misconception that craneflies are predators of those pesky mosquitos! In fact, many adult craneflies are unable to eat at all! Though some craneflies have mouthparts for sponging up liquids, this is rarely observed.

The double-barrelled Latin names for most species may seem confusing at first, but in fact they are often descriptive and make discussion across languages and even regions much easier for everybody to understand! The sap-loving beetles belong to the genus Glischrochilus which translates to “sticky-lip”. Sometimes the root of the names refence to historical culture such as Death watch beetles, who form the family Anobiidae – named after the Egyptian god of death Anubis.

There are even Latin names given to newly discovered species, relating to modern culture such as a species of sponge called Spongeform squarepantsii - though it is unlikely to be descriptive in this case!

There are approximately 7 million named species of terrestrial invertebrate, making unique, short common names impossible past a certain number of given names! It is estimated that there are millions of species of invertebrates yet to be discovered and named.

If you discovered a species, what type of name would you give it?

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