Friday, 26 October 2007

Sputnik and Harvestmen

When I saw this spider-like creature with a pea-sized body and very long thin legs, it instantly reminded me of Sputnik-1 (Спутник-1) the Soviet Union’s and the world’s first ever man-made satellite to be put into orbit around the earth 50 years ago this month. Launched on October 4, 1957, Sputnik-1 was the first of a series of satellites collectively known as the Sputnik program and its success ignited the so-called Space Race between the then USSR and the United States within the Cold War.

Although this arachnid looks like the so-called daddy-long-leg spiders that we sometimes find in damp places in our bathrooms it is not a real spider. It belongs to the Order Opiliones whose members are commonly called Harvestmen (for what reason I don’t know). Like spiders they have 8 legs and feed on small insects and belong to the Class Arachnida but unlike them they do not produce web. Quite a number of species of harvestmen are found on Borneo, generally living on the soil among leaf litter, in foliage or on tree trunks.

This interesting specimen was photographed in the forest near Madai Waterfall, Kunak where they are quite common. (The super-imposed Sputnik image is produced using a photo found on the Net.)

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