Wolf spiders are a fascinating group of arachnids known for their unique hunting strategies. Unlike many spider species, wolf spiders do not spin intricate webs to catch their prey. Instead, they rely on their agility and excellent eyesight to actively hunt and capture their food.
These spiders can be found in various habitats such as woodlands, grassy meadows, and gardens. Wolf spiders are typically brown or gray with dark markings, and can range in size from 1/2 inch to 2 inches long. One distinctive feature of wolf spiders is the way mothers carry their egg sacs around, and the spiderlings ride on their mother’s back until they are partially grown source.
While the absence of webs may seem like a disadvantage compared to other spiders, wolf spiders compensate with their speed and keen senses. It’s a different approach to survival, showcasing the adaptability and diversity found in the world of spiders.
Wolf Spider Basics
Wolf spiders are part of the Lycosidae family and are moderate to large-sized spiders, ranging from 1/4- to 1-inch long. They are generally gray, brown, black, or tan with dark brown or black body markings, especially stripes. Some key features include:
- Hairy body
- Athletic and fast-moving
- Large eyes, with a notable pair of large eyes on top of their head
Habitat and Distribution
These spiders are ground-dwelling hunters that do not rely on webs to catch their prey. Instead, they actively chase and capture their prey, much like wolves. They can be found in a variety of environments such as:
- Residential areas
Taxonomy and Species
The wolf spider family encompasses a wide range of species and genera. There are over 2,300 species of wolf spiders across more than 100 genera worldwide. Examples of common species include:
- Hogna carolinensis (Carolina wolf spider)
- Pardosa amentata (Silvery wolf spider)
- Lycosa tarantula (European wolf spider)
To summarize, wolf spiders are intriguing arachnids with various physical characteristics, habitat preferences, and taxonomical classifications. They are known for their unique hunting style and notable eye arrangement.
Web Building and Hunting Strategies
Do Wolf Spiders Make Webs?
Wolf spiders do not typically create webs to catch prey. They rely on their strong eyesight and agile hunting abilities instead. Unlike web-building spiders that construct intricate webs in calm, undisturbed places, wolf spiders stay active on the ground.
Alternative Hunting Techniques
Wolf spiders have developed various strategies to effectively capture prey. Some of their notable techniques include:
Eyesight: Wolf spiders possess excellent eyesight, making them highly effective predators. Their prominent eyes and good vision help them spot and chase down prey.
Camouflage: These spiders blend seamlessly into their surroundings, using their natural coloration and patterns to remain hidden from both prey and predators.
Speed: Wolf spiders are known for their speed, allowing them to chase and pounce on unsuspecting prey.
Comparing wolf spiders to other spider species shows further differences in their web-related behaviors and hunting preferences:
|Feature||Wolf Spider||Web-Building Spider||Jumping Spider|
|Web Construction||No||Yes||Yes (for hunting & mating)|
|Primary Hunting Strategy||Ground hunting, camouflage, & speed||Web-based prey capture||Jumping on prey & ambush|
|Eyesight||Highly developed||Variable, often less acute||Highly developed|
|Habitat||Ground, soil, & leaf litter||Calm, undisturbed places||Varied (ground & vegetation)|
Wolf spiders also use some silk, for instance, when creating burrows, safeguarding their young, and during the mating process. However, spinning webs for capturing prey is not a part of their hunting repertoire. Overall, wolf spiders have adapted to their environment and developed unique, effective hunting strategies that set them apart from web-building and jumping spiders.
Feeding and Prey
Common Prey for Wolf Spiders
Wolf spiders primarily feed on various insects, including:
- Small insects and arachnids
These spiders are generalist predators, meaning they consume a wide variety of prey types, based on availability.
Wolf spiders use their speed and agility as their primary hunting strategy, instead of spinning webs. They are known to:
- Actively hunt and pursue prey
- Ambush insects by hiding and pouncing
They use their venom to subdue their prey, which they inject through a bite. The venom is harmless to humans but effective in immobilizing smaller insects.
Pros and Cons
- Efficient hunters, controlling insect populations
- Harmless to humans, as their venom poses little threat
- Can bite when alarmed, leading to mild discomfort and localized swelling
In summary, wolf spiders have distinct prey preferences and hunting strategies. They are efficient in controlling insect populations around them, and their venom, although harmless to humans, effectively immobilizes insects for feeding.
Physical Appearance and Adaptations
Coloration and Camouflage
Wolf spiders exhibit a range of colors and patterns such as gray, brown, and black, sometimes with dark brown or black stripes. Their mottled coloration is an essential adaptation that helps them blend into their environment, which includes grasslands, forests, and under debris.
Some benefits of wolf spider coloration include:
- Camouflage: Their colors mimic surroundings, aiding in avoiding predators.
- Hunting: Blending in allows them to sneak up on prey undetected.
Eyes and Night Vision
Wolf spiders possess large eyes that give them excellent night vision. They have eight eyes arranged in three rows. The most notable feature is their fact pair of large, forward-facing eyes that provide them with sharp vision and depth perception.
A summary of wolf spider eye features:
- Eight eyes: Two large anterior eyes, two medium-sized lateral eyes, and four smaller eyes.
- Night vision: Their large eyes play a crucial role in their ability to see in the dark, a helpful adaptation for nocturnal behavior.
- Eyeshine: The eyes of wolf spiders have a reflective layer, called the tapetum, which causes them to produce eyeshine when light is shined on them, further improving their night vision capabilities.
|Mottled coloration||Camouflage & hunting|
|Eight eyes||Improved vision|
|Night vision||Nocturnal hunting|
|Eyeshine||Enhanced night vision|
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Wolf spiders engage in a fascinating courtship, where the male attracts the female by using various body postures and patterns. This process is more simple than the courtship practiced by nursery web spiders (Pisauridae), which often involves the male presenting the female with a gift in the form of prey wrapped in silk.
- Female wolf spiders produce an egg sac
- The egg sac contains over 100 eggs
- The female attaches the egg sac to her abdomen
In comparison, nursery web spiders also carry their egg sacs, but hold them with their jaws and spinnerets instead of attaching them to their abdomens.
- Spiderlings hatch from the egg sac
- They climb onto their mother’s abdomen
- The mother carries them around until they are partially grown
Compared to members of the Pisauridae family, wolf spiderlings are more dependent on their mother’s care and transportation. For example, in nursery web spiders, the mother builds a web specifically for her spiderlings, called a nursery web, which provides them with some protection and a place to develop independently.
Here’s a table highlighting key differences between wolf spiders and nursery web spiders in terms of their reproduction and life cycle:
|Feature||Wolf Spiders||Nursery Web Spiders (Pisauridae)|
|Courtship||Simple body postures||Gift in the form of prey wrapped in silk|
|Egg Sac||Attached to abdomen||Held by jaws and spinnerets|
|Spiderlings’ Care||Carried on mother’s abdomen||Housed in a nursery web|
Overall, wolf spider reproduction and life cycle exhibit unique behaviors when compared to other spider families, such as Pisauridae. And interestingly, they don’t build webs to catch their prey but prefer to actively hunt instead.
Interactions with Other Species
Wolf spiders primarily rely on their agility and camouflage to avoid predation. A few common predators include:
- Larger insects
These spiders don’t build webs, but instead, rely on their speed and hunting abilities. They use vibrations to detect and evade predators. When threatened, they may also use their bite as a last resort, though it’s not harmful to humans.
Importance in the Ecosystem
Wolf spiders play a crucial role in the ecosystem. Their presence is beneficial because they:
- Control populations of insects and other arthropods
- Act as a crucial food source for predators like amphibians and reptiles
- Help maintain biodiversity in their environment
Here’s a comparison table to understand the role and attributes of wolf spiders in their ecosystem:
|Main prey||Insects, other arthropods|
|Predators||Amphibians, reptiles, larger insects|
|Habitat||Forests, grasslands, various environments|
|Web making||No, they hunt actively|
In summary, wolf spiders use their agility and camouflage as their main defensive strategies against predators. They play a significant role in controlling insect populations and maintaining ecosystem balance.
Common Wolf Spider Species
Carolina Wolf Spider
The Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinensis) is a large species of wolf spiders most commonly found in the southeastern United States1. It holds the distinction of being the state spider of South Carolina. Some key characteristics of the Carolina Wolf Spider include:
- Size: Typically between 18-35mm in length
- Color: Brown to gray with various markings or lines
- Habitat: Found in grassy meadows, woodlands, and gardens
Harange, or “sit and wait” strategy, is a common hunting method used by wolf spiders, including the Carolina Wolf Spider2. They do not make webs to capture their prey but rely on their speed and camouflage instead. Some benefits of this hunting technique include:
- Efficiency: Energy is conserved by not building webs
- Camouflage: Spiders blend with their surroundings to ambush prey
Jumping spiders are a diverse group of spiders known for their exceptional jumping skills3. Among the many species of jumping spiders, some of the most notable include the Zebra Jumping Spider (Salticus scenicus), Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax), and Eris Militaris.
|Zebra Jumping Spider||5-9mm||Black and white stripes||Rocks and walls, urban areas|
|Bold Jumping Spider||13-20mm||Black with white markings||Gardens and under stones|
|Eris Militaris||4-7mm||Orange or yellow-green||Woodlands and meadows|
Jumping spiders share some similarities with wolf spiders, such as actively hunting for prey and not relying on webs. However, differences include their jumping abilities, smaller size, and unique color markings.
Myths and Misconceptions
Wolf Spiders vs. Brown Recluse Spiders
Wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders are often confused with each other. Let’s clarify their differences with a comparison table:
|Feature||Wolf Spider||Brown Recluse Spider|
|Size||0.4 – 1.38 inches||0.24 – 0.79 inches|
|Color||Brownish||Light to dark brown|
- Wolf spiders do not make webs while brown recluse spiders do.
- Both are not aggressive but may bite when threatened.
- Wolf spiders have well-defined legs while the brown recluse has thin, long legs.
Are Wolf Spiders Dangerous?
Although wolf spiders have a frightening appearance, they are not very dangerous to humans. A wolf spider bite may cause:
- Mild pain
However, these symptoms are usually short-lived and not medically significant.
In contrast, a brown recluse spider bite can cause serious health concerns. Symptoms of their bite include:
- Severe pain
- Flu-like symptoms
- Skin necrosis
It is important to seek medical attention if a brown recluse bite is suspected.
Spider Silk and Webs
Types of Spider Webs
- Orb Webs: Classic, circular webs made by orb-weaver spiders
- Funnel Webs: Wide funnel-shaped webs with a narrow opening
- Sheet Webs: Horizontal sheets of silk made by sheet weaver spiders
- Tangle Webs: 3D, messy webs built in corners or among vegetation
Wolf spiders, however, don’t create webs for capturing prey. Instead, they actively hunt on the ground or under rocks.
Properties of Spider Silk
Spider silk has remarkable properties, such as:
- Strength: Comparable to steel on a weight-to-weight basis
- Elasticity: Can be stretched up to 40% of its original length
- Toughness: Combines both strength and elasticity, making it resilient
|Property||Spider Silk||Steel (by weight)|
Sticky silk is produced by some spiders (Araneae) for trapping prey in their webs. However, wolf spiders don’t rely on sticky silk as they don’t build webs for catching prey.
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 – Wolf Spider
Subject: Idaho Spider
Location: Boise Idaho
July 14, 2015 8:27 pm
Hi, my girls and I found this big spider in our closet under the stairs and we can’t work out what kind it is, can you help us to identify it and whether it is a beneficial or a pest species. The body was about an inch and the total size was 2.5 inches.
Signature: Graeme, Alex, Bella & Ana
Dear Graeme, Alex, Bella & Ana,
This beautiful spider looks like a Wolf Spider, and Wolf Spiders are not considered to be either dangerous or aggressive, however a large individual, and this is a large individual, might bite if carelessly handled. We would recommend relocation if possible. You can capture the spider in an overturned glass and slip a post card or other rigid, flat surface under the glass and then safely transport the spider outdoors.
Letter 2 – Wolf Spider
Subject: Spider ID
Location: Salisbury NC
March 20, 2015 11:20 am
I have been trying to ID this spider without any luck.
This was taken in Salisbury NC. in Sept 2014.
This was the only picture I could get because it was a fast spider, and was gone in a few seconds.
Thanks for any help.
This looks like some species of Wolf Spider to us based on the eye arrangement. You can see a nice image of the eye pattern of a Wolf Spider on Animals Time where it states: “Wolf spiders do not spin webs. They are known to run very fast. Wolf spiders usually hunt at night.”
Letter 3 – Wolf Spider
Subject: Burrowing spider black/orange
Location: Albany, TX
July 17, 2015 12:31 pm
I found this spider with a 1′ deep burrow in a dry rocky soils area. I am unsure what spider it is as I have never seen it before
Thanks so much!
This is one gorgeous and impressive Wolf Spider in the family Lycosidae, but we cannot be certain of the exact species. We are leaning toward a member of the Burrowing Wolf Spider genus Geolycosa which is well represented on BugGuide. There is an image on the Arco Digital Images site from Wolfsspinne, Texas that looks very similar to your individual. We also found a very entertaining posting on the Bugs In The News website from Harker Heights, Texas, and the author indicates that Geolycosa is a possible identification. We would not discount the possibility that this is a member of the genus Hogna either. Perhaps one of our readers can assist with this identification.