She’s Got Legs by
50
(75 Stories)

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One hot summer, I built a Mount and Brungs Proportional Diluter.

One hot summer, I built a Mount and Brungs Proportional Diluter.

A proportional diluter is a device that will deliver different concentrations of a solution to different outlets, all from one reservoir of the chemical and one reservoir of the diluent. It is usually used in aquatic toxicology research, which is why I built one. Today this task would be done simply with computer-controlled pumps. But way back then, these did not exist, or were wholly unaffordable if you were not Proctor & Gamble. Mount and Brungs devised a way to do it using just gravity and a crazy tangle of tanks, valves, tubing, funnels and self-starting siphons. They can be made to work semi-reliably, but require much tweaking and constant watching. Of course, my chemical of interest would give off toxic fumes, so to protect the other people in the lab, my MBPD had to be enclosed in its own custom-made (by me) sealed and ventilated cabinet.

It was a long, hot summer.

I built it in an old ramshackle garage in an isolated area of the Rutgers campus. On the bright side, I was still ensnared in my fractious and failing marriage to Valerie, so long, sweaty DEET-soaked hours all alone in the heat and humidity were balm for my soul.

But not entirely alone. I had some company. I had Harvestmen. Hundreds of Harvestmen.

You probably call them Daddy Long-Leg spiders. I did. They are not actually spiders, just distant cousins, although most people think that they are. I did.

I had not been in that garage long, on the first day of the build, when the first one dropped from the rafters onto my head. Now many people would be startled by this, even frightened. I was. But there was no getting around them. They were literally everywhere in that old garage. They dropped from above. They were on the walls. They crawled across the floor, across my work, across me, constantly. As it turns out, they are known for living in large groups.

I considered getting a couple of aerosol bug bombs, tossing them in and going away until the next day. But then I’d have to work among the fumes and pesticide residue. Also, I don’t like to kill anything without necessity. I grudgingly decided that I could live with the Harvestmen.

But, it wasn’t long before I grew to find them quite interesting. The ones in that central New Jersey garage were mostly brown, but some had this pretty purplish undertone to their carapaces. They had an amusing habit of stopping as they were walking down my arm or over my MBPD and bobbing in place for a few seconds, like characters in an old Fleischer Brothers cartoon. Much later I learned that this is done to confuse predators. Like me.

Many years later, an urban legend made the rounds that Harvestmen have the world’s deadliest venom, but their jaws are so weak that they cannot pierce human skin. This is false. Although they are indeed incapable of biting anything much larger than a gnat, they also have no venom glands at all. The little bobbing dance, and the ability to self-amputate a leg that will twitch as a decoy, are defensive tactics used to fool predators. Just ruses so they can survive.

I am still quite fond of Harvestmen. I empathize with them, stingless, venomless, harmless, just trying to bob and weave their way unscathed through the uncertain world.

Eastern Harvestman

 

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.


Tags: invertebrates, assembly, science, marriage, daddy longlegs, spiders, arachnids, survival
Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    This is quite the tale, Dave…being out there in that toxic, hot garage with all your Daddy Long Legs as companions. I’m glad they didn’t scare you away, but became your interesting companions for your challenging, difficult work. It sounds like quite the summer.

  2. Wonderful Dave, as always I enjoy reading your stories but at first I was puzzling over what exactly a Mount and Brings Proportional Diluter was!

    But I was soon delighted to realize your story was really about your relationship with those companionable Harvestmen!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, Dave! No way could I have handled that.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    It seems your love of the sea continued into aquatic research. I am impressed by the diluter contraption, and that you were able to construct a functional one. Visions of chemistry lab, where it seemed nothing was easy. The morphing of the story into learning to live with and appreciate the Harvestmen was lovely. Even though your human relationship was under strain, you found a way to connect to other living beings, which can bring great solace.

  5. Marian says:

    I was unaware that daddy-long-legs were called Harvestmen, so thanks for enlightening us. Written like a true scientist, Dave, and a great lesson in how things first considered annoyances can ultimately be appreciated. Love the diluter, BTW. It brought back memories of when lab instruments were more “primitive.” I do appreciate today’s peristaltic pumps and software routines. They make life a lot easier for the equipment operators.

  6. Suzy says:

    You had me at Rutgers campus! Not so much the contraption you were building, which I did not understand at all. But fascinating about the Daddy Long Legs colony you discovered and got to know. And the name Harvestmen was new to me too. Thanks for this story.

  7. Jim Willis says:

    I enjoyed your construction adventure, Dave, even though engineering is not my forte’ and I’m still not sure what you built exactly. But I do understand your feeling about not wanting to randomly kill bugs. I’m the same way, right down to ants. I’ve always felt its their world as much as mine. Thanks for sharing the story.

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