Do Wolf Spiders Eat Black Widows? A Surprising Predator-Prey Relationship

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.

Wolf spiders:

  • Opportunistic hunters
  • Prey on insects and invertebrates
  • May feed on venomous spiders like black widows

Black widows:

  • Venomous spiders
  • Dangerous to other insects and small animals
  • Risk of being preyed upon by wolf spiders

Hunting Techniques

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.

  • Wolf Spiders:

    • 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.
  • Black Widows:

    • 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:

  • Wasps
  • Birds
  • Lizards

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
Web building No Yes
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
Size Smaller Larger3
Web No web Web (irregular shape)
Habitat Ground-dwelling Hidden areas4
  • 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
Webs No Yes
Habitat Various Dark, secluded
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
  • Worms
  • Beetles

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.

Conclusion

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.

  • Wolf spiders:

    • 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
Web Building None Yes
Hunting Active Passive

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.

Footnotes

  1. Wolf Spiders – Penn State Extension 2 3

  2. Spiders: Brown Recluse, Black Widow and Other Common Spiders 2

  3. How to identify a wolf spider | OSU Extension Service 2

  4. Wolf Spider – Plant & Pest Diagnostics – College of Agriculture and… 2

Reader Emails

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?
Joseph
Houston, Texas – Southeast Texas

Rabid Wolf Spider

Hi Joseph,
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
Hello –
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!
Signature: -Kristin

Rabid Wolf Spider

Hi Kristin,
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?
Rick

My Rick
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…
David

Hi David,
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?
John

Hi John,
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.
Ralph Plummer
Edgewood Md

Hi Ralph,
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

 

Mama Mia
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.
Signature:  Ellen

Rabid Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

Dear Ellen,
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.

Rabid Wolf Spider with Spiderlings

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.

26 thoughts on “Do Wolf Spiders Eat Black Widows? A Surprising Predator-Prey Relationship”

  1. love the idea that something called a rabid wolf spider could be harmless! (By the way I also am totally creeped out by wolf spiders and always carefully check my bed, tub, and clothes when I stay in my aunt’s infested basement in MD)

    Reply
  2. If you hate the other bugs you mentioned the ones that rhyme with coach (lol) theses spiders eat other spiders and those bugs they are not poisonous and are very aggressive towards large creatures like humans.

    Reply
  3. Thanks for the info , was curious about the Rabid Wolf Spider I’ve seen a few of them around the yard & garden wasn’t sure what it was , accidentally injured it during capture so no pics.
    This big/little spider is pretty fast shot across the garage floor at about 6-8 ft in less than 2 secs.
    Fresno Calif.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for the info , was curious about the Rabid Wolf Spider I’ve seen a few of them around the yard & garden wasn’t sure what it was , accidentally injured it during capture so no pics.
    This big/little spider is pretty fast shot across the garage floor at about 6-8 ft in less than 2 secs.
    Fresno Calif.

    Reply
  5. I had a rude awakening with these the first time I move to the country. When we first moved in I left my boxes in the garage so when I brought them in the house, I was surprised by these spiders in my shoes. Fortunately , that was my fault and has not happend since. They do jump and do not use webs. They hang out in garages and doorways so they can jump and attack the other bugs trying to get in the house. I refuse to go close enough to squish one so I always keep a five gallon spray of raid to kill them when I see them. If you are against chemicals. Real peppermint oil will help keep them away. Soak ur windows and doors with the mint ( I use it as a spray while other just put drops everywhere ). This will at least help to keep them outside. I find two in my garage nearly everyday after work so I prefer a combination of both chemicals and mint spray .

    Reply
  6. one of these things were in my pants this morning and YEOWCH does their bite hurt. it left a little welt, but i’m relieved to hear that they’re harmless. but i assure you, check your pants for spiders, expecially the ones that don’t build webs… they’re the ones that hide in things like this spider does.

    Reply
  7. Ahh I just saw a huge one on my porch nice to know there harmless but I think I won’t be letting my girls play outside for a few weeks.. They are huge to me too a lil bit bigger than a hlf dollar

    Reply
  8. I had to kill 2 within a week in my house. On the kitchen counter, and then my daughters bathroom. They were almost as big as the tarantulas in west Texas. Time to call the exterminator and get the yard sprayed.

    Reply
  9. I moved to a home in Siloam Springs Arkansasvand these spiders are taking over. I was told to use sticky pads to catch spiders. I find around 50 spiders a day. I have a picture of the largest found. I do not know what they are. I do not want to kill them if they are not poisonous. I do not like to kill anything, It breaks my heart.

    Reply
  10. I feel really bad now, I walked out onto my back porch and was freaking out about the size of this spider. So I sprayed the heck out of it with raid spider killer,it struggled for a few minutes. It finally died and I thought I was doing justice but now that I know they actually are harmless and kill other spiders , I feel bad. RIP spider.

    Reply
    • Don’t fret about your uninformed actions. We are thankful our site has changed your potential reaction regarding further encounters with beneficial spiders.

      Reply
  11. Get some guinea chickens instead of raid, The guinea chickens are the nature’s pest control. They will eat spiders, cocoroaches and even scorpions and little snakes. In my opinion every house should have guinea chickens.

    Reply
  12. Okay… I’m not really afraid or “Heeby-Jeebied” by spiders. I’ve had to end several arachnids lives out in my garage (North Houston, by the way) from wolf spiders to Black Widows, not a big deal…

    Until just 15 minutes ago! I mean, scared, frightened and still have the “Heeby- Jeebies”!!!

    I just saw this same spider in my garage. Well, with only one difference… it had wings!
    Yes, a SPIDER WITH FREAKIN’ WINGS, I tell you!!! And it looked exactly like the one in the picture associated with this thread except… With wings man!

    This one creeped the hell out of me and I just need to say that there are some things that should have no business with the idea of flight, Spiders is definitely one of those things!

    Has anyone ever seen these?

    I took video of this mutant if interested, I just don’t know how to upload or paste it into a thread. Ask me and I can email it to whomever needs it.

    Ubalagdamontfrabuuu!!!! Sorry, ithat was the Heeby- Jeebies typing!

    Reply
    • Hi, k have to see your video. I’m not all that afraid of spiders outdoors but there was a spider I thought was a wolf spider in my house that I’m still trying to identify and now, flying spiders? I hope this is not true. Please email to me, mskathy45@gmail.com

      Reply
  13. Okay… I’m not really afraid or “Heeby-Jeebied” by spiders. I’ve had to end several arachnids lives out in my garage (North Houston, by the way) from wolf spiders to Black Widows, not a big deal…

    Until just 15 minutes ago! I mean, scared, frightened and still have the “Heeby- Jeebies”!!!

    I just saw this same spider in my garage. Well, with only one difference… it had wings!
    Yes, a SPIDER WITH FREAKIN’ WINGS, I tell you!!! And it looked exactly like the one in the picture associated with this thread except… With wings man!

    This one creeped the hell out of me and I just need to say that there are some things that should have no business with the idea of flight, Spiders is definitely one of those things!

    Has anyone ever seen these?

    I took video of this mutant if interested, I just don’t know how to upload or paste it into a thread. Ask me and I can email it to whomever needs it.

    Ubalagdamontfrabuuu!!!! Sorry, ithat was the Heeby- Jeebies typing!

    Reply
  14. Ummm no thank you harmless or not your dieing buddy….so I was doing some research on my phone on pineapple vinegar and out the corner of my eye I see something move then this Rabit Wolf Spider jumped on my bed I jumped up to get a shoe and now its gone….well im not sleeping tonight til its dead….problem is NOW I CANT FIND IT….The thought of this big a** spider crawling on. my face while I sleep makes my hairs stand up…hate spiders

    Reply

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