The daddy longlegs spider looks as though it was drawn very quickly on a sheet of paper by the hand of God (the hand of God is the MC Escher drawing of the hands drawing themselves) and then – perhaps after that sheet of paper was photocopied a few billion times, warming each spider up a bit – sprang off the page and into at least two corners in every home in Europe, Africa, North America, Asia, Oceania and South America – but not Antarctica, because they don’t like the cold.
Googling the daddy longlegs is a mistake, because this creature you never get too close to, and which looks pleasantly enough like a semicolon on eight spindly legs, is suddenly magnified. Now it looks like (don’t click – don’t do it!) a pitch pipe mated with a lobster.
There was a tree at my preschool that in spring would grow big buds covered in soft down. My friends and I picked them, and kept one each in a matchbox, believing it would grow into a small animal.
We were idiots. Seeing this behaviour and perhaps wanting to take advantage of our gullibility – or to protect us from the harm we might easily come to – older children told us a secret: “The daddy longlegs (deep breath) is the most poisonous spider on Earth.”
As we sat on the wall at lunch, eating Marie biscuits and drinking orange squash, we passed it on. Those of us with younger siblings told them, too, to see their eyes grow large.
Maybe we let the listener sit with this information for a few hours before adding: “But it can’t kill you, because its fangs are too small”. And so all of the children in the world came to know a single piece of information.
Is it a myth? Yes, it is a myth. The daddy longlegs is not harmful to humans, but they can kill redback spiders (Australian black widows). Because redback venom can kill humans, people may have believed daddy longlegs could kill us, too.