Grass Spider vs Wolf Spider: Nature’s Arachnid Showdown

Grass spiders and wolf spiders are often mistaken for each other due to some similarities in appearance and habitat. However, these two spider species have distinct differences that set them apart. This article will explore the unique features of grass spiders and wolf spiders to help you distinguish between them.

Grass spiders belong to the Agelenidae family and can be identified by their elongated hind spinnerets and the distinctive markings on their carapace and abdomen. These spiders are known for creating funnel-shaped webs in grassy areas, where they lie in wait for their prey to become ensnared. On the other hand, wolf spiders, belonging to the Lycosidae family, are considered athletic hunters and rely on their speed and agility to chase and capture prey instead of using webs.

When differentiating between these two spiders, it’s essential to pay attention to the web type and some physical characteristics. For instance, grass spiders have longer spinnerets and specific dorsal markings, while wolf spiders exhibit dark brown or black body markings, particularly stripes. By understanding and recognizing these differences, one can better appreciate the unique qualities each spider has to offer.

Identifying Grass Spiders and Wolf Spiders

Appearance and Size

Grass spiders are identified by their horizontal webs and elongated hind spinnerets. Females range from 10 to 20 millimeters, while males are slightly smaller, at 9 to 18 millimeters in length 1. On the other hand, wolf spiders are moderate to large-sized spiders, measuring between 1/4 to 1 inch long, with slightly hairy bodies 2.

Color and Markings

Grass Spiders:

  • Brown with prominent longitudinal gray or tan stripes 3.
  • Distinctive markings on the carapace and abdomen 4.

Wolf Spiders:

  • Brown to gray with various markings or lines 5.

Eye Patterns and Vision

Grass spiders belong to the funnel weaver family and have three rows of eyes, while wolf spiders have two rows of eyes 6.

Comparison Table

Feature Grass Spiders Wolf Spiders
Size 9-20 mm 1/4-1 inch
Color Brown with stripes Brown to gray
Eye Rows 3 2
Legs 8 8
Camouflage In grass and webs Ground-dwelling

Habitats and Behavior

Natural Habitats

Grass spiders and wolf spiders thrive in different natural habitats. Grass spiders are often found in:

  • Grasslands
  • Meadows
  • Mountains

On the other hand, wolf spiders prefer habitats like:

  • Deserts
  • Rainforests
  • Grasslands 1

Manmade Habitats

Both spiders can be found in manmade habitats, too. Grass spiders are likely to be seen in:

  • Lawns
  • Sheds
  • Windows

Wolf spiders, however, tend to inhabit:

  • Garages
  • Basements
  • Sheds 2

Hunting and Predatory Behavior

When it comes to hunting, the two species differ. Grass spiders:

  • Weave funnel-like webs on the ground
  • Lie in wait for prey
  • Detect prey using web vibrations 3

Wolf spiders, on the other hand:

  • Do not spin webs for hunting
  • Actively pursue their prey
  • Employ powerful camouflage techniques 4

Here is a comparison table:

Feature Grass Spiders Wolf Spiders
Preferred Habitat Grasslands, meadows, mountains Deserts, rainforests, grasslands
Manmade Habitats Lawns, sheds, windows Garages, basements, sheds
Hunting Style Webs on the ground, passive hunting No webs, active hunting
Prey Detection Web vibrations Camouflage, direct pursuit

Webs and Hunting Strategies

Funnel Webs

Grass spiders and wolf spiders exhibit different web-building behaviors. Grass spiders create unique funnel webs, which are:

  • Sheetlike in appearance
  • Positioned horizontally
  • Attached to a funnel leading to a shelter (rock crevice or dense vegetation)

These webs serve as a trap for insects and other prey, allowing the grass spider to ambush them effectively.

Nursery Web Spiders

Wolf spiders, on the other hand, do not create webs to capture their prey. Instead, they are roaming hunters and are categorized as Nursery Web Spiders. Unique characteristics of nursery web spiders include:

  • Females carry their large egg sacs with them
  • Spiderlings ride on the mother’s back until they are partially grown
  • Not poisonous but can cause pain and swelling if bitten

Ambushing and Jumping

In terms of hunting strategies, both grass spiders and wolf spiders employ ambush and jumping methods. While grass spiders use their funnel webs to ambush their prey, wolf spiders rely on their speed and agility.

Feature Grass Spiders Wolf Spiders
Web Funnel webs to trap prey No webs for hunting, roam and hunt
Hunting Method Ambushing prey on webs Ambushing and jumping
Special Features Elongated hind spinnerets and dorsal markings Carry egg sacs, spiderlings ride on mother’s back

Both spider species are effective predators that employ their unique hunting strategies to capture insects and serve as an essential part of their ecosystems.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Egg Sacs

Grass Spiders:

  • Female grass spiders spin their egg sacs in late summer, often having multiple sacs
  • The sacs are constructed using the spider’s spinnerets

Wolf Spiders:

  • Female wolf spiders carry their egg sacs attached to their spinnerets until the spiderlings hatch
  • They then carry the young spiderlings on their back

Comparison table:

Feature Grass Spider Wolf Spider
Egg Sac Location Attached to web Attached to spinnerets

Mating Rituals

Grass Spiders:

  • Males approach females using vibrations and pheromones
  • Females may or may not signal receptiveness with body movements

Wolf Spiders:

  • Male wolf spiders “dance” to attract females
  • They then tap their legs and vibrate their abdomens

Courtship Rituals

Grass Spiders:

  • Similar to mating rituals, involving vibrations, and pheromones to evaluate potential mates

Wolf Spiders:

  • Males sometimes present gifts to females
  • Displays of leg-waving and body vibrations to show interest

Cannibalistic Behaviors

Grass Spiders:

  • Not typically cannibalistic during reproduction

Wolf Spiders:

  • Females may occasionally eat males after mating, especially if not provided with a nuptial gift

Comparison table:

Characteristic Grass Spider Wolf Spider
Cannibalism during mating Rare Occasionally observed

Taxonomy and Distribution

Genera and Families

Grass spiders and wolf spiders belong to two different families within the Araneae order of arachnids. The grass spider belongs to the family Agelenidae, and is commonly found in the Agelenopsis genus. On the other hand, the wolf spider belongs to the family Lycosidae.

Examples

  • Grass spider: Agelenopsis aperta, Agelenopsis pennsylvanica
  • Wolf spider: Lycosa tarantula, Hogna carolinensis

North American Distribution

Grass spiders and wolf spiders are both widely distributed throughout the North America region. They can be found in various habitats, such as grasslands, forests, and urban areas.

U.S. Distribution

  • Grass spiders: Widely spread in almost every state
  • Wolf spiders: Commonly found in all 50 states

Spider Enthusiast Resources

For spider enthusiasts who are interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures, the World Spider Catalog is an excellent resource covering taxonomy, distribution, and other spider facts. Additionally, local arachnid organizations and online forums can provide support and information about ongoing research and conservation efforts in North America.

Comparison Table

Feature Grass Spider Wolf Spider
Family Agelenidae Lycosidae
Web type Funnel-shaped None or simple sheet web
Eye arrangement 8 eyes, 4+4 vertically 8 eyes, eyes arranged in rows
Body shape Slender and elongated Robust and hairy
Hunting strategy Ambush in web Active free-ranging hunters

Bites and Venom

Poisonous and Non-Poisonous Spiders

Grass spiders and wolf spiders are both non-poisonous, although some misconceptions may lead people to believe otherwise. Other spiders, like the brown recluse and hobo spider, are known to be poisonous.

Non-Poisonous Spiders:

  • Grass spider
  • Wolf spider

Poisonous Spiders:

  • Brown recluse
  • Hobo spider

Bite Symptoms and Pain

When bitten by a grass or wolf spider, the symptoms are usually mild. Pain and redness at the bite site are common. However, a brown recluse or a hobo spider bite can cause more severe symptoms like inflammation, necrosis, and even neurological complications as noted in PubMed.

Spider Bite Symptoms Pain Level
Grass Spider Mild Low
Wolf Spider Mild Low
Brown Recluse Severe High
Hobo Spider Severe High

Allergic Reactions

Some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to a spider bite, regardless of whether the spider is venomous. These reactions can range from itching and swelling to more serious complications like difficulty breathing. MedlinePlus suggests using over-the-counter antihistamines for severe swelling.

Common Allergic Reactions:

  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty breathing

Prevention and Control

Keeping Spiders out of Homes

To keep spiders like grass spiders and wolf spiders out of your home, follow these steps:

  • Seal up gaps and cracks: Caulk gaps and cracks around doors, windows, and baseboards.
  • Eliminate clutter: Remove stacks of newspapers, magazines, or cardboard to reduce hiding spots.
  • Keep areas clean: Regularly vacuum and clean dark spaces like basements and garages.

Take care of your lawn and yard by:

  • Mowing regularly
  • Removing rocks and debris
  • Trimming bushes and trees near your home

Safe Interaction with Spiders

When encountering a spider:

  • Stay calm: Don’t panic; most spiders are harmless.
  • Use a flashlight: Shine a light on the spider to better see its features and avoid mishandling.
  • Capture and release: If necessary, use a jar or other container to gently capture the spider and release it outdoors.

Spider Species Identification Tips

To identify grass spiders and wolf spiders, look for these characteristics:

Grass spiders:

  • Spinnerets: Long, hind spinnerets
  • Size: Female (10-20mm), Male (9-18mm)
  • Web: Distinctive funnel-shaped webs

Wolf spiders:

  • Size: 1/2 inch to 2 inches long
  • Color: Brown to gray with various markings
  • Movement: Quick, ground-dwelling hunters (no webs)

Comparison table:

Feature Grass Spiders Wolf Spiders
Size Female: 10-20mm 1/2 inch to 2 inches
Male: 9-18mm
Color Varies by species Brown to gray
Web Funnel-shaped None (hunt on ground)
Spinnerets Long, hind spinnerets Shorter spinnerets
Medical concerns Generally non-poisonous It rarely bites; minor reactions if bite

By following these tips, you can keep your home and outdoor spaces less attractive to both grass spiders and wolf spiders, and learn to safely interact with and identify them.

Footnotes

  1. Grass Spiders – Penn State Extension 2
  2. Spiders | UMN Extension 2
  3. Urban Spider Chart | Entomology – University of Kentucky 2
  4. Grass Spiders – Penn State Extension 2
  5. How to identify a wolf spider | OSU Extension Service
  6. Common Spiders of Maryland – Maryland’s Wild Acres

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 – Carolina Wolf Spider

 

should i be worried
a friend of mine told me to send you this picture of a spider i saw running across my living room. i have seen a few of them lately, should i be alarmed or are they a harmless spider helping control other pests in my house.
thanks
Thomas

Hi Thomas,
Your spider sure looks like a Carolina Wolf Spider, Lycosa carolinensis, the largest North American Wolf Spider. Females are about twice the size of males, reaching almost 1 1/2 inches. Like your specimen, sometimes this spider has a darker stripe along the midline of the abdomen. This spider is usually found in open fields on the ground and hunts mainly at night. It ranges throughout the United States and Southern Canada. It is harmless, but a good hunter that will help keep your home free of pests.

Letter 2 – Burrowing Wolf Spider, we believe

 

Subject: Three years after the fact
Location: near Enid, OK
February 25, 2013 5:55 am
This lovely spider sat in our driveway and patiently allowed me to take as many pictures as I wished without so much as twitching. I am guessing it must be a type of wolf spider- it was quite large- but would love to know more.
Thank you!
Signature: Ceci

Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider

Hi Ceci,
We agree that this impressive spider is a Wolf Spider, and we believe it might be one of the Burrowing Wolf Spiders in the genus
Geolycosa based on photos posted to BugGuide.  Perhaps one of our readers will write in with a comment confirming or refuting our identification.

Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider

Your photos are quite beautiful.

Thank you- of all the days to get a lucky shot I am glad it was this one.  I will now be watching all the little holes near our house with more interest this year; maybe I will get to see one in residence.  Thanks for the help!
Ceci

Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider

Letter 3 – Burrowing Wolf Spider

 

Subject: shy spider strikes a pose!
Location: West central Texas
May 18, 2013 7:09 am
This little lady was playing peek-a-boo with me as the sun came up this morning. From what I’ve found online, she has to be a scrub burrowing wolf spider, but I couldn’t find any pics online that looked quite like her. As far as I could tell, her body was smooth, legs hairy, dark brown except for some of the top of her abdomen which was cream colored.
I managed to fend off my cat and get a series of pics as she came out of hiding. Made my day!
Signature: DeeJay, the bug nerd

Burrowing Wolf Spider
Burrowing Wolf Spider

Dear DeeJay,
Thanks for sending us your photos of a Burrowing Wolf Spider, most likely a member of the genus Geolycosa.  Your photos really illustrate the burrowing habits.

Burrowing Wolf Spider
Burrowing Wolf Spider
Burrowing Wolf Spider
Burrowing Wolf Spider

 

Letter 4 – Carolina Wolf Spider

 

Subject: Large spider
Location: On my cousins foot in Texas. October 17th
October 17, 2014 9:45 pm
What kind of spider is this?
Signature: Curious creeper

Carolina Wolf Spider
Carolina Wolf Spider

Dear Curious creeper,
Several time in recent month, we have tentatively identified large Wolf Spiders as Carolina Wolf Spiders,
Hogna carolinensis, but in your case we are nearly certain that the image you submitted is of a Carolina Wolf Spider, which according to BugGuide can be identified because of:  “Orange paturons (chelicera) and black around the the “knees” ventrally are characteristics of the species.(Jeff Hollenbeck)” and both of those characteristics are evident in your image.  Carolina Wolf Spiders range well beyond the Carolinas.  Though a large individual might bite if carelessly handled, Carolina Wolf Spiders are not considered dangerous.

Letter 5 – Carolina Wolf Spider

 

Subject:  Carolina Wolf Spider?
Geographic location of the bug:  South Denver, Colorado
Date: 09/24/2018
Time: 12:19 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Bugman,
This big guy has been hanging out in our well for two days now. He is about 2-3 inches in length (a little longer than a sharpie pen cap). He seems very large for a Colorado spider, largest I’ve seen in years! He’s mostly grey on top with black markings (black X on abdomen); on bottom he is black and grey banded. He’s also got some cool gold/orange fangs! Also seems like his markings have changed from picture 2 to 3. Pictures were taken day apart, second day about 10 degrees cooler. The only spider I can figure it is is a form of a wolf spider.. what do you think? Thank you!
How you want your letter signed:  To Sarah,

Carolina Wolf Spider

Dear Sarah,
We agree that this certainly looks like a Carolina Wolf Spider which is pictured on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “Orange paturons (chelicera) and black around the the ‘knees’ ventrally are characteristics of the species.(Jeff Hollenbeck)” and that is exactly what your ventral view illustrates.

Carolina Wolf Spider

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.

8 thoughts on “Grass Spider vs Wolf Spider: Nature’s Arachnid Showdown”

  1. I found one of those on my front door ! Scared the mess outta me ! My husband got a close up pic of it and I wouldn’t go anywhere near the huge evil looking thing * shivers violently * i see the other kind of wolf spiders all the time and I can kill those things with no problems but this kind of spider ?? !! Forget it !

    Reply

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