I was taught as a general rule that you shouldn’t mess with a Daddy Long Legs spider. Not because they would hurt you or anything but because they do more good than harm. They help by catching other bugs that may be in the proximity. For me, the spider is not a nuisance and I honestly never wondered why they had such long legs. But that isn’t the case for everyone, and now scientists have gone out of their way to create the Daddy Short Legs.
A daddy long legs with short legs, because SCIENCE!
Researchers, led by Guilherme Gainet from the University of Wisconsin Madison, decided to go ahead and mess with them. The reason was to understand what makes the legs grow in their DNA. If experts can figure this out, it will reveal how spiders develop their particular evolutions and body plans. As well as reveal how daddy long legs make their distinct long legs.
“We anticipate that the genome of P. opilio will facilitate the development of more sophisticated tools for functional genetics, toward refining the understanding of how daddy long-legs make their long legs,” said the researchers in their published study.
In order to do this they first sequenced the genome of the Phalangium opilio which is instead just a close relative to a spider. Next they used a process called RNA interference which turned off a pair of genes which were associated with the development of the legs. They did this in hundreds of daddy long legs embyros and they got interesting results.
Six of the daddy short legs’ eight legs were about half the size of their normal legs. They were also seemingly transformed into pedipalps. Pedipalps are generally used in handling food for the arachnids.
“Looking forward, we are interested in understanding how genes give rise to novel features of arachnids, such as spider fangs and scorpion pinchers, and also leveraging the genome to develop the first transgenic harvestmen,” Guilherme Gainett told CNET.
I’m not exactly sure what this will accomplish in the long run, but the idea of a cute daddy short legs is endearing. Also if you go to the published study you can see all kinds of images of the shorter legged spider. I recommend checking them out.