Are Wolf Spiders Poisonous? Debunking Myths & Facts

Wolf spiders are a common species found in various habitats across the world. They are known for their hunting abilities and distinct physical features.

These spiders can range in size from 1/2 inch to 2 inches long and boast a hairy body with colors from orangish-brown to gray or black, often accompanied by splotches or stripes that provide camouflage.

Are Wolf Spiders Poisonous
Wolf Spider

Their unique eye arrangement further sets them apart, as they have eight eyes set in three rows.

Like many spiders, wolf spiders are venomous (not poisonous). However, despite, having venom, their bites usually don’t pose a threat to humans.

However, there is a possibility of an allergic reaction to their venom, but overall, wolf spiders are considered relatively harmless creatures.

Wolf Spiders at a Glance

Physical Appearance

Wolf spiders are hairy spiders that vary in size, from 1/2 inch to 2 inches long.

They can be brown, gray, or black, sometimes having markings or lines on their bodies.

They have a unique feature – large eyes, with two prominent pairs on top and one pair on the front.

Some common colors:

  • Brown
  • Tan
  • Dark
  • Gray

Some key features of wolf spiders include:

  • Size: 1/2 inch to 2 inches long
  • Hairy body with various markings for camouflage
  • Eight-eye arrangement in three rows

Wolf Spider missing two legs

Habitat and Distribution

Wolf spiders belong to the Lycosidae family and are known to dwell in various habitats.

They are often found in the U.S, especially in basements, crawlspaces, and breezeway.

These spiders are solitary, preferring ground-level areas and rarely entering homes. A quick comparison of Wolf Spider and other common spiders:

 Wolf SpiderBrown RecluseBlack WidowTarantula
Size1/2 – 2 inches1/4 – 3/4 inch1.5 – 1.38 inch> 3 inches
ColorBrown, Gray, BlackLight to Dark BrownBlack with Red HourglassBrown or Black
HabitatGround-level, basements, crawlspacesSheltered, Dark SpacesUndisturbed, Dark PlacesGround burrows, Under rocks
DistributionAcross the U.SSoutheastern, Midwestern U.SNorth America, parts of South AmericaAmericas, Africa, Asia, Australia

It is important to note that although wolf spiders can bite, they are not poisonous.

Their bites may just cause pain, redness, and localized swelling, usually subsiding within 24 hours without any severe medical consequences as shared by Penn State Extension.

Behavior and Hunting Techniques

Spinnerets and Webs

Wolf spiders are unique compared to other spider species. They have spinnerets, but they don’t rely on constructing webs to catch prey.

Instead, these spiders roam their habitat in search of food. They can often be found in:

  • Grass
  • Leaves
  • Burrows
  • Firewood piles

Predatory Techniques

Wolf spiders are known as hunters, similar to wolves. They primarily prey on insects, like crickets and various insect larvae.

These arachnids employ a variety of techniques to catch their prey:

  • Chase: Wolf spiders rely on their speed to run down and catch insects.
  • Ambush: They hide in grass or leaves, waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass by.

To better understand these hunting techniques, here is a comparison table of their main features:

TechniqueProsCons
ChaseAllows the spider to cover more ground, increasing chances of finding preyCan be more energy-consuming
AmbushSpider saves energy by remaining stationary, making them less noticeableRequires patience, less area covered

Wolf spiders are known for their eyeshine. They have eight eyes, with their large, front pair reflecting light, making it easier for them to detect prey.

Carolina Wolf Spider

Another notable characteristic is the use of their front legs to hold and manipulate captured prey, as well as in defense.

Their legs also play a role in creating burrows where they reside.

In different habitats, several species of wolf spiders can be found, many of them sharing similar characteristics.

An example of a well-known wolf spider is Hogna, which is commonly found across the United States.

Are Wolf Spiders Poisonous? Venom and Bites

Effects of Wolf Spider Bites

Wolf spiders are not considered venomous, however, their bites can still be painful and cause discomfort.

Some common symptoms after a wolf spider bite include:

  • Pain at the bite site
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Red mark

In rare cases, people may experience an allergic reaction, resulting in more severe symptoms.

Treatment and Recovery

If bitten by a wolf spider, the following steps can help in treating the bite and managing symptoms:

  1. Clean the bite area with soap and water.
  2. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling.
  3. Elevate the affected area if possible.
  4. Take over-the-counter pain relievers and antihistamines for pain and itchiness.

In most cases, wolf spider bites can be treated at home, and recovery is generally swift.

However, it is crucial to monitor the bite area for signs of infection, which may require medical attention.

Wolf Spider BiteInsect Bite
* Pain* Pain
* Swelling* Swelling
* Itching* Itching
* Red mark* Red mark

In conclusion, wolf spider bites are generally not dangerous, but they may cause symptoms such as pain, swelling, and itching.

Treating the bite and keeping the area clean can help with recovery. However, if severe symptoms or infection occur, seek medical attention promptly.

Carolina Wolf Spider

Relation to Other Spider Species

Brown Recluse Spider

Wolf spiders are often mistaken for brown recluse spiders due to their similar appearance. However, wolf spiders have a few differences:

  • Size: Wolf spiders are generally larger, ranging from 1/2 inch to 2 inches long, while brown recluse spiders are typically 1/4 to 3/4 inches long.
  • Markings: Brown recluse spiders have a distinctive dark violin-shaped marking on their cephalothorax, which wolf spiders lack.
  • Venom: Brown recluse spiders have more potent venom than wolf spiders, and their bite can cause severe skin lesions and, in rare cases, systemic effects.

Black Widow Spider

Comparing wolf spiders to another venomous spider, the black widow, shows the following differences:

  • Color: Black widow spiders are glossy black, while wolf spiders are brown to gray with various markings or lines.
  • Size: Black widow spiders are typically smaller, with females being about 1.5 inches long, and males significantly smaller.
  • Venom: Black widow spider bites are more dangerous than wolf spider bites, as their venom can cause severe muscle pain, cramps, and in rare cases, death if left untreated.
FeaturesWolf SpiderBrown Recluse SpiderBlack Widow Spider
Size1/2 inch – 2 inches1/4 inch – 3/4 inches1.5 inches (Female)
ColorBrown to grayBrownGlossy black
MarkingsVarious markingsDark violin-shapedRed hourglass
Venom PotencyLowHighHigh
Danger to HumansMinimalModerate to severeSevere

In conclusion:

  • Wolf spiders are not poisonous spiders, unlike brown recluse and black widow spiders.
  • The venom of brown recluse and black widow spiders can cause significant harm to humans, while wolf spider bites usually only cause temporary discomfort.
  • Identifying these spiders’ characteristics can help distinguish them from one another and increase awareness of potentially dangerous arachnids encountered in homes and gardens.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Mating Behavior

Wolf spiders exhibit a unique mating behavior among spider species.

The male will often perform a courtship ritual to attract a female, which may involve waving his legs or other physical displays.

Egg Sacs and Parental Care

Female wolf spiders show a high degree of parental care for their offspring.

They produce an egg sac containing over 100 eggs and carry it attached to their abdomen until the spiderlings hatch1.

This behavior can be observed in various habitats, such as rainforests, wetlands, under rocks, and logs.

Spiderlings of species of wolf spiders display interesting behavior as well.

False Wolf Spider

Once they hatch, they climb onto their mother’s back and ride around until partially grown2.

This ensures their safety and protection during the early stages of their life.

Notably, there is some diversity in the life cycles of different wolf spider species. Some species live for multiple years, while others have a one-year life cycle3.

In comparison to some other spiders that spin webs to catch prey, wolf spiders are hunters.

They have strong, long legs that enable them to actively chase down their prey. Their cephalothorax is built to inject venom and subdue their quarry.

Dealing with Wolf Spiders in Homes

Preventative Measures

Wolf spiders are common in various habitats, such as grasslands, mountains, deserts, and meadows.

They may enter homes and can be found in basements, garages, sheds, and other cluttered areas.

To prevent them from entering, consider the following:

  • Seal gaps: Close any openings around windows and doors to prevent spider entry.
  • Keep it clean: Regularly clean basements and garages to reduce clutter and remove potential habitats.
  • Outside maintenance: Trim bushes and keep grass short near your home to remove their camouflage.

Relocating Wolf Spiders

Since wolf spiders are not poisonous, and their bites usually cause no serious harm, you may want to relocate them instead of killing them. Here’s how:

  • Capture: Gently trap the spider under a cup or container without harming it.
  • Secure: Slide a sturdy piece of paper beneath the cup to trap the spider inside.
  • Release: Take the spider outside and release it into a suitable habitat such as grasslands or meadows.
HabitatSuitable for Relocation?
GrasslandsYes
MountainsYes
DesertsYes
MeadowsYes
Basements (in homes)No

In conclusion, dealing with wolf spiders in homes is manageable by taking preventative measures and relocating them where necessary.

Wolf Spider

Interesting Wolf Spider Facts

Wolf spiders are fascinating creatures found in various parts of the world, with more than 200 different species known to exist. They are known for their impressive eyesight and unique traits that set them apart from other spiders.

  • Name: They’re called “wolf spiders” due to their hunting habits, similar to wolves, as they do not spin webs to catch prey.

  • Eyesight: Possessing excellent eyesight, wolf spiders rely on their eight well-developed eyes to identify and track their prey. This is particularly useful for hunting at night.

Wolf spiders can be easily identified by their physical characteristics:

  • Size: These spiders vary in size, ranging from 1/2 inch to 2 inches in length.
  • Color: Typically brown, black, gray, or yellow, with various markings.
  • Pedipalps: They have prominent pedipalps, or sensory organs, near their fangs, which help them detect and grasp prey.

Though wolf spiders can appear intimidating, they generally pose little threat to humans:

  • Aggressive: They are not known to be aggressive but will bite in self-defense if mishandled or threatened.
  • Venom: While their venom can cause mild pain and swelling, it’s not considered life-threatening. In fact, their bite is often compared to a bee sting in terms of severity.

Some other intriguing habits of wolf spiders involve their movement and habitat preferences:

  • Gravel: They’re often found on gravel surfaces, where they can blend in and effectively stalk their prey.
  • Flashlight: If you use a flashlight at night and see a bright greenish-blue reflection, it’s likely you have encountered a wolf spider.

In conclusion, wolf spiders are fascinating arachnids with keen eyesight and unique behaviors, and while they may appear threatening, they’re not a cause for concern for most people.

Footnotes

  1. Wolf Spiders – Clemson Cooperative Extension 
  2. How to identify a wolf spider – Oregon State University Extension  2
  3. Wolf Spiders: Family Lycosidae – Urban IPM 

Conclusion

To sum up, wolf spiders are venomous and adept predators.

Although their bites might hurt, particularly for the insects they catch, they don’t generally endanger humans.

Their venom is geared towards prey, not people. Still, its best to watch them from afar and avoid contact with these magnificent creatures.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about wolf spiders.

Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Wolf spider?
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
April 28, 2011 11:38 pm
These are some big spiders that I find inside and outside of my house. Sometimes their leg span must be 2.5 inches or more. I’m hoping it’s a wolf spider, as I’ve read they are relatively harmless to humans.
Signature: Joshua Robinson

Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Hi Joshua,
This is indeed a Wolf Spider, and furthermore, her abdomen is covered with Spiderlings.  Wolf Spiders have maternal behavior.  First the female carries her egg sac around with her, dragging it behind her.  When the spiderlings hatch, they ride around on the body of the mother for several days before they disperse.

Letter 2 – Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Wolf Spider w/Spiderlings
September 5, 2010
Location:  Saxtons River, Vermont
Hi Daniel,
I have frequent problems actually logging into the WTB website due to cookies issues. I do not have them blocked, yet I often can’t log in….any hints as to how I can get around this??

Was just looking at the photos of wolf spiders with spiderlings and thought you might like these photos. I was mowing and saw her in the grass…. it was taken on June 13, 2004 in Saxtons River, Vermont. I love that you can see her eyes peeking through the blades of grass!
Hope you’re having a good holiday weekend.
KT

Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Hi KT,
It also appears that this female Wolf Spider is still dragging the egg case with her even though the spiderlings have hatched.  We will contact our web master, also named Daniel, with your connectivity problem to see if he is able to assist.

Hi Daniel,
When I took that photo, the babies were still emerging from the egg sack. I was laying the grass watching them race out of the sack and up onto her back. It was amazing! Those spiderlings move faster than greased lightning!
Thanks for checking on the sign-in problems.
KT

Letter 3 – Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

spider with babies
Location: Barnum, MN
July 6, 2011 4:41 pm
Hi Bugman!
My Sister took this photo while visiting my Mom last week July 1, 2011 in Barnum, MN Just wondering if you could help us identify the spider. Hope you can blow this photo up a little so you can see the babies on the Mom’s abdomen and yes that’s the egg sack below her and to the back of her abdomen.

I don’t have any spider identification books so I’m at a loss. I remember growing up in the woods and seeing lots of wolf spiders…but I’m really not certain.
Hope you can help and hope you enjoy the photo! Have a wonderful day, Heidi
Signature: Heidi Sims

Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Hi Heidi,
You are correct that this is a Wolf Spider.  The female Wolf Spider drags her egg sac with her and when the spiderlings begin to hatch, they hitchhike on her back for several days before they disperse.

Letter 4 – Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Spider Carrying Babies on Abdomen
Location: Northern Utah
November 20, 2011 9:23 pm
I took a wonderful picture of a large brown spider with hundereds of babies on her back. I’m just curious as to what kind it is.
It doesn’t look like a wolf/recluse spider because is had a white stripe going up its head between its two largest eyes.
Signature: Cloudiie

Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Hi Cloudiie,
To the best of our knowledge, among spiders this type of maternal behavior is limited to Wolf Spiders, though among Arachnids, Scorpions also transport their young.  Wolf Spiders are harmless.  We believe this may be a Rabid Wolf Spider, though your sighting is further west that those indicated on BugGuide.

Letter 5 – Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Subject: Wolf Spider
Location: Germantown, Maryland
June 2, 2012 11:40 pm
I cam across this spider while getting the mail, and she just fascinated me! I believe after some research she may have been a female wolf spider.

She just seems much smaller than other pictures of female wolf spiders. She was very patient with me, which I appreciated. Are those eggs on her back or are those babies?
Signature: Spider Watcher

Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Dear Spider Watcher,
You are correct that this is a Wolf Spider.  She is a female and she is carrying around her newly hatched spiderlings on her back.  They will disperse in a few days.  Female Wolf Spiders drag around the egg case until the eggs hatch. 

The egg case is attached by silk to the females spinning organs known as spinnerets.  Your inquiry will go live to our website later in the week because we are postdating submissions in preparation for a short holiday we will be taking away from the office.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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