Wolf spiders and black widow spiders are two well-known species that have captured the attention of many due to their distinctive appearances and behaviors. While black widow spiders are known for their highly venomous bites, wolf spiders, though not as toxic, are often mistaken for them due to their similar size and coloring.
The diet of a wolf spider consists mainly of insects and other small arthropods, but their opportunistic nature raises the question of whether they would prey on other spiders, like the infamous black widow. It’s essential to understand their hunting techniques, habitat, and overall behavior to determine if they would indeed consume black widow spiders as part of their diet.
Wolf spiders are skilled hunters, characterized by their keen eyesight and speed, while black widow spiders are more known for their web-building to ensnare prey. Additionally, both species tend to inhabit different environments, with wolf spiders often found in grassy areas and black widows preferring dark, undisturbed locations.
Wolf Spiders and Black Widows
Physical Characteristics of Wolf Spiders
Wolf spiders are generally 1/2 inch to 2 inches long, with varying shades of brown or gray. They have a distinctive pattern on their bodies and are hairy. Their excellent eyesight enables them to hunt efficiently for prey. Some common features of wolf spiders include:
- Size: 1/2 inch to 2 inches long
- Color: Brown or gray
- Hair: Hairy body
- Eyesight: Good, aids in hunting
Physical Characteristics of Black Widows
Black widows, particularly the female southern black widow, are known for their shiny, jet-black color and their distinct red hourglass marking on their abdomen. Males are smaller than females and have a white underbody. Black widows usually grow 8 to 13 millimeters in body length and measure 25 to 35 millimeters with legs extended. Key characteristics for these spiders are:
- Size: 8 to 13 millimeters in body length
- Color: Shiny jet black for females, black with white underbody for males
- Markings: Red hourglass marking on abdomen (females only)
|Wolf Spiders||Black Widows|
|1/2 to 2 inches long.||8-13mm body length.|
|Brown or gray color.||Shiny jet black.|
|Hairy body.||Smooth body.|
|Good eyesight.||Red hourglass marking on females.|
Wolf spiders mainly reside in grasslands and gardens, while black widows prefer hiding in concealed, undisturbed areas. Both species are found in North America, with wolf spiders being more widespread. The genera of these spiders differ; wolf spiders belong to the Lycosidae family, whereas black widows are in the Theridiidae family.
Feeding and Hunting
Predators vs. Prey
Wolf spiders (family Lycosidae) are opportunistic predators known to feed on various insects and small invertebrates, including ants, beetles, worms, and even other spiders1. Although black widows are venomous spiders, they may still fall prey to wolf spiders due to their effective hunting techniques2.
- Opportunistic hunters
- Prey on insects and invertebrates
- May feed on venomous spiders like black widows
- Venomous spiders
- Dangerous to other insects and small animals
- Risk of being preyed upon by wolf spiders
Wolf spiders have remarkable hunting skills; they rely on ambush techniques and patience while seeking prey3. These spiders do not use webs to catch their prey but rely on pouncing and actively hunting their targets4.
Some hunting techniques of wolf spiders include:
- Ambushing prey
- Pouncing on targets
- Actively hunting without using webs
In comparison to other spider species that construct silk webs to catch their prey, such as black widows, wolf spiders are active hunters that rely on their agility and hunting prowess.
|Spider Species||Hunting Techniques||Prey|
|Wolf Spiders||Ambushing, pouncing, active hunting||Insects, arachnids|
|Black Widows||Webs, venomous bites||Insects, arachnids|
Do Wolf Spiders Eat Black Widows
Dynamics Between Wolf Spiders and Black Widows
Wolf spiders and black widows are different types of spiders, each with its unique characteristics and habits. Although there are instances where spiders can be cannibalistic, the likelihood of a wolf spider preying on black widow spiders is relatively low. Both spiders have their methods of avoiding conflict and competing for resources; let’s explore these dynamics further.
- Hairy, with a body size from 1/2 inch to 2 inches long.
- Brown or gray coloring.
- Known for their active hunting and excellent vision.
- Do not build webs to capture prey.
- Smaller, with a body length around 8 to 13 millimeters.
- Shiny black coating with a distinctive red hourglass on their underside.
- Build strong, irregular webs to catch prey.
- Known for sexual cannibalism, where females consume the male after mating.
Effect on Other Spider Species
While it’s uncommon for wolf spiders to consume black widows, they can still affect each other’s populations. Wolf spiders, for example, may indirectly benefit from black widows’ predatory habits on other spider species, as they might reduce competition for resources. Conversely, black widows may gain an advantage by hiding in areas with less risk of encountering wolf spiders.
Both wolf spiders and black widows have natural predators that can help control their populations. These include:
In terms of other species like brown recluses, the presence of wolf spiders and black widows can be a source of competition, which could impact the brown recluse spiders’ overall population. Brown recluses are also known to hide in secluded areas, similar to black widows, reducing the likelihood of encountering wolf spiders in the wild.
|Features||Wolf Spiders||Black Widows|
|Size||1/2 inch to 2 inches||8 to 13 mm|
|Color||Brown or gray||Shiny black|
|Hunting method||Active, ground-based predator||Web-based|
|Potential risks||Competition for resources||Sexual cannibalism|
In summary, although wolf spiders and black widows occupy different ecological niches, their presence can impact other spider species and the larger ecosystem.
Interactions with other Animals and Humans
Comparing Venomous Bites
Wolf spiders and black widow spiders both have venom, but their venom potency and the severity of their bites are different. For example:
- Wolf spider bites:
- Initial pain and redness
- Some localized swelling
- Symptoms generally subside within 24 hours1
- Black widow spider bites:
- More severe symptoms
- Muscle cramps, nausea, and increased heart rate2
- Medical attention may be required
These spiders interact with different organisms within the ecosystem. For instance:
- Prey: Both spiders feed on insects, such as ants and baby brown recluses1.
- Predators: Mammals, frogs, and other spiders may prey on these spiders.
Impact on Ecosystem
Wolf spiders and black widow spiders play slightly different roles in their respective ecosystems. Some key differences include:
|Feature||Wolf Spider||Black Widow Spider|
|Web||No web||Web (irregular shape)|
- Wolf spiders:
- Valuable predators, controlling insect populations
- Act as prey for larger animals, like frogs and birds
- Black widow spiders:
- Also important for insect control
- Fewer natural predators due to their venomous bites
In both cases, these spiders help maintain a balance within the ecosystem.
Behavior and Habits
Habits of Wolf Spiders
Wolf spiders are solitary hunters, known for their quick movement and excellent eyesight. They mainly hunt insects but occasionally feed on other spiders, including black widows. They don’t build webs and prefer to use their speed when capturing prey. Wolf spiders can be found in various habitats such as grasslands, forests, and even residential areas. While hiding, they use burrows or leaf litter as protective spaces. Natural predators of wolf spiders include wasps, birds, and lizards.
- Prey: Insects and other spiders
- Habitat: Grasslands, forests, residential areas
- Hiding: Burrows or leaf litter
- Predators: Wasps, birds, lizards
Habits of Black Widows
Black widow spiders are known for their distinctive markings and strong, messy webs. Unlike wolf spiders, black widows are web builders. They mainly consume insects but occasionally eat other spiders. Their webs serve as both a home and a trap for prey, typically found in dark, secluded areas of their habitats. Black widows are generally shy, avoiding confrontation and tending to retreat. As with most spiders, black widows face threats from wasps, birds, and lizards.
- Prey: Insects and other spiders
- Webs: Strong, messy, used for trapping prey
- Habitat: Dark, secluded areas
- Predators: Wasps, birds, lizards
|Feature||Wolf Spiders||Black Widows|
|Prey||Insects, spiders||Insects, spiders|
|Hiding||Burrows, litter||In webs|
|Predators||Wasps, birds, lizards||Wasps, birds, lizards|
Adaptations and Characteristics
Wolf Spiders Adaptations for Catching Prey
Wolf Spiders are accomplished hunters, known for their excellent eyesight and incredible agility. Their primary prey includes:
- Ground-dwelling insects
A few key adaptations and characteristics for catching prey are:
- Eyesight: Possessing eight eyes, including large forward-facing eyes, allows them to detect small movements and be precise in their attacks.
- Sensitivity to vibrations: When hunting on the ground, they can detect vibrations created by their prey, which helps locate food in their habitat, such as meadows and forests in North America.
- Strong legs: Their powerful and agile legs allow them to catch prey quickly, making them efficient predators.
Black Widows Adaptations for Catching Prey
Black Widow spiders, infamous for their venom, exhibit some unique adaptations for catching their prey, which mainly consists of insects and small mammals. Key adaptations and characteristics include:
- Web structure: They build irregular webs with funnel-shaped retreats, providing both defense and an efficient way to catch prey.
- Venomous bite: Their venom is potent enough to immobilize prey, allowing them to feed without risk of injury.
- Sensitivity to vibrations: Similar to Wolf Spiders, they use vibrations in their webs to detect when prey is trapped.
Here’s a comparison table highlighting the main differences between these two species:
|Adaptation/Characteristic||Wolf Spider||Black Widow|
|Eyesight||Excellent, with eight eyes, including large forward-facing eyes||Not as well-developed|
|Hunting Strategy||Active hunters relying on agility & speed||Use venomous bites and webs for trapping prey|
|Prey Type||Ground-dwelling insects, worms, & beetles||Insects, small mammals|
|Habitat||Meadows, forests in North America||Dark, secluded spaces (e.g. crawl spaces, wood piles)|
Both spiders have adapted to their respective habitats and have developed unique methods of catching prey in their environments. This results in them targeting different types of prey, with Wolf Spiders focusing on ground-dwelling insects while Black Widow spiders are able to catch insects and small mammals with their venomous bites.
In summary, wolf spiders and black widow spiders display different behaviors and characteristics. Wolf spiders are hairy, brown to gray, while black widows are shiny and jet black. Let’s consider their feeding habits and potential interactions.
- Hunt their prey
- Don’t use webs
- Feed mainly on insects
Black widow spiders:
- Trap prey using webs
- Bite and inject venom
- Prey on insects, arachnids, and small vertebrates
A comparison of their features can be seen in this table:
|Feature||Wolf Spiders||Black Widow Spiders|
|Appearance||Hairy, brown||Shiny, jet black|
Considering the above information, it can be inferred that wolf spiders may prey upon black widows if they come across them. However, they would not actively seek black widows as their primary food. The interaction would likely be incidental rather than a common occurrence.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Rabid Wolf Spider
Giant Garage Spiders!!
July 6, 2010
Ok. There are giant spiders (at least, giant according to my standards) that I find from time to time in my garage. Now, I keep killing them (I know, bug fanatics probably don’t like the idea of that) but they just keep coming back! Of the three I’ve found, two have been inside the garage itself and the third was in the hall way just inside the garage door. All of the sightings have been at night. I live in Houston, Texas (so southeast Texas) and while I’ve seen spiders they’ve always been tiny…NOTHING ever this big. Also, one time when I went after one with a flip-flop, I went to “strike” and it kind of hopped out of the way which leads me to believe they can jump (which also scares me). While I am not a fan of bugs in general there are two that I’m particula rly NOT a fan of: spiders and i can’t even say the other one’s name b/c it gives me chills but i’ll say it rhymes with coach.
Now, I know some spiders can be quite poisonous and I just want to know if these are dangerous?
Houston, Texas – Southeast Texas
This is a harmless Wolf Spider, and we are nearly certain it is the Rabid Wolf Spider, Rabidosa rabida, a species that is profiled on BugGuide.
Letter 2 – Rabid Wolf Spider
Subject: Spider Identifcation
Location: North East Pennsylvania
July 30, 2012 8:51 am
This spider was found in my home on my pillow. The picture is zoomed in but the spider was as big as a half dollar. I thought it might be a Nursery Web Spider but I’m not sure. Please let me know if you are able to help me identify this spider. Thanks!
Your spider is a Rabid Wolf Spider, Rabidosa rabida, or another member of the genus, and you may verify that identification on BugGuide. This large Wolf Spider is not a dangerous species.
Letter 3 – Rabid Wolf Spider
Can you help id this spider?
Wasn’t sure if this was a spotted fishing spider, wolf spider or something else?
I admire your courage getting close enough to a Rabid Wolf Spider, Lycosa rabida, to place a $5 bill. The spider, though large and fearsome appearing, is actually harmless. It is found in woods and meadows among litter and on low foliage from Oklahoma north to Nebraska, east to Maine, and south to Florida. People fear the bite, hence the common name. A closely related species in Europe, Lycosa tarentula, is responsible for a crazy legend stating the only way to survive the bite is to dance the wildly provocative tarentella.
Letter 4 – Rabid Wolf Spider
More lovely spiders from Bucks County, PA…
Hello again, Sir Bugman.
Here is what we have researched to be a species of Wolf spider. This superspider went scurrying across our living room floor, pursued by our three insectivore cats. We got to it before the felines could snack on him. We though he was a mouse at first! This spider was enormous! We managed to capture it in a big tupperware for photography and release. We let it go out behind our house, so it could continue ridding our backyard of insect pests and the stray small dog…
Gorgeous image of a Rabid Wolf Spider, Lycosa rabida. This beautiful spider is harmless, but greatly feared, hence the name rabid. According to a legend, the only way to cure the bite of its close European relative is to dance the tarentella, a wild Italian dance.
Letter 5 – Rabid Wolf Spider
What kind of spider?
What kind of spider is this?
Nice photo of a Rabid Wolf Spider.
Letter 6 – Rabid Wolf Spider and Spiderlings
I believe this to be a Wolf Spider from comparing it to a picture from your web site. I thought this was particularly interesting being that you referenced the Wolf spider carries her eggs for only a few days.
Nice photo of a female Rabid Wolf Spider caring for her spiderlings. According to Audubon: “Female spins a silken cocoon around egg mass, attaches cocoon to spinnerets, and drags it about. It darkens from shiny white to dirty brown. Spiderlings ride on female’s back until ready to disperse.”
Letter 7 – Rabid Wolf Spider with Spiderlings
Location: Coryell County, Central Texas
October 11, 2010 10:00 pm
Found this large spider in the garage. Live and let live, but I prefer large arachnids to live freely outside. Silly, I know, but that’s just how it is. Was going to nickname it ”Bruce” until I noticed all the spiderlings on her back. Took a couple of quick photos, and of course this was at night and I had to use the flash, sorry. I noticed that a couple of spiderlings were jumping ship, and promptly set them all free in the garden. May they live long and prosper.
Are they Rabidosa rabida? I looked up wolf spiders on a university website.
We concur that this appears to be a Rabid Wolf Spider, a harmless species with an unfortunate name. We slightly adjusted the levels and darkened your images a bit and the detail is quite exceptional.