Both the huntsman and the wolf spiders have become quite common in the US today. Let us understand how to differentiate between these two species.
The world of arthropods is truly an impressive feat of nature’s creation, with numerous interesting and unique species.
If you, too, find arachnids to be among the most fascinating arthropods, you’re going to love this article.
Among the largest arachnids that you’re likely to come across in North America, the Wolf Spider and the Huntsman Spider deserve special mention.
It’s easy to mistake them for each other due to the similarities they share.
Intrigued by the two species, we decided to explore more about them and find out how to distinguish them.
What Are They?
We’re going to dive right into the topic with a quick introduction to both huntsman and wolf spiders.
Firstly, let’s make it clear that the name “huntsman spider” doesn’t refer to a specific spider. It’s the common name used for the entire Sparassidae family of spiders.
It comprises 1,300 species so far described. Although huntsman spiders are extremely common in North America, most of their subspecies are native to Asia and Australia.
In case you’re wondering why the huntsman spider is named such, it’s because of the hunting style of the species.
These spiders are active hunters (instead of web weavers) and capture their prey by ambushing them, and are often masters of camouflage.
Wolf spiders belong to the Lycosidae family and include a vast range of spiders of different sizes found across the globe.
They are extremely agile and can sprint very fast, which allows them to chase down their prey.
Contrary to most spiders (including the huntsman spiders), wolf spiders also have excellent eyesight.
Only the huntsman spider and the jumping spider species can rival wolf spiders in speed.
What Do They Look Like?
The easiest way to differentiate between huntsman and wolf spiders is, of course, their appearance.
The large of these long-legged spiders can measure up to about a diameter of 12 inches. But on average, they are closer to 6 inches by leg span.
The fact that their bodies are only about an inch long should give you an idea of how long their legs are.
Adult huntsman spiders are usually gray or dark brown with hairy legs in some species.
In some species, there may be lighter bands on the legs, white and black stripes on the underside, or reddish patches near the mouthparts.
Huntsman spiders have a flat body that allows them to live in narrow rock crevices and under the bark of trees.
Even the joints on their legs spread out laterally rather than vertically, unlike most spiders.
This gives their legs the appearance of being bent in the middle, which is why people also call them giant crab spiders.
The wolf spider can be hard to notice, thanks to its ability to camouflage itself.
Their color usually depends on the environment they live in, which means they can be orange, gray, brown, black, or even salmon pink and yellow!
The undersides of their bodies are cream, gray, or black, and in some cases, salmon pink and yellow.
They may have black or white markings superimposed on the underside or a raised orange spot at the sides of the jaws.
Unlike huntsman spiders, the body of a wolf spider usually doesn’t exceed a diameter of three inches.
The wolf spider is usually a hairy spider and has long legs, and bears stripes on its back.
What Do They Eat?
Both huntsman spiders and wolf spiders are nocturnal predators that hunt insects and other invertebrates for food.
Huntsman spiders catch their prey with or without the use of webs.
They are particularly good at quietly waiting for their prey and ambushing it.
Potential prey for the huntsman spider includes insects, lizards, small invertebrates, and other small animals.
Wolf spiders mostly prey on invertebrates, too, and have a preference for the ones on the ground.
Although rare, there have been several instances of wolf spiders preying on small vertebrates like toads too.
Apart from a very few species of wolf spiders, most do not spin webs. They hunt their prey simply by pouncing on them or chasing them down.
Where Do They Live?
Both species of spiders are now abundant in North America. However, let’s get a more detailed understanding of their habitats:
You can find this hunting spider in tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions across the world, be it Asia, Australia, Africa or America.
Many huntsman spider species have also spread far and wide from their native lands, such as the invasive Asian species found in Florida.
Their preferred environments vary depending on the species, but many are commonly known as wood spiders because they prefer to live in woody environments.
These spiders may sometimes be found indoors if there are insects they can prey on.
In the wild, they usually live on foliage, under rock slabs on the ground, in loose tree bark, in the crevices of logs and rock walls, etc.
Like huntsman spiders, wolf spiders are also present in most continents.
The fact that smaller wolf spiders can soar and disperse in the air has helped in their spread.
They’re quite common in the US, in both coastal and inland regions. It’s a particularly common spider species in the states of California, Missouri, and Texas.
While they prefer to live in coastal forests, alpine meadows, and inland woodlands and shrublands, you might also come across them in suburban gardens.
What is Their Lifecycle?
Moving on, let us now explore the life cycles of huntsman spiders and wolf spiders.
These spiders have a lifespan of two years or longer, and while most are loners, some species of huntsman spiders live in colonies.
The Delena cancerides, for instance, is a huntsman spider species that live in large colonies of up to 150 spiders.
When ready to mate, adult male huntsman spiders let their presence known to nearby females using certain sounds.
They usually have a long and complicated courtship, and unlike most spider species, the females don’t attack the males after mating.
Each female huntsman spider lays up to 200 eggs in a flat, oval egg sac made of papery silk.
Although the incubation period varies, it might easily last a few weeks. During this time, the females constantly guard the eggs or even carry the sac around with them.
Huntsman spiders grow through molting and shed their old skins periodically.
The younglings are usually pale in color and stay under the care and protection of their mothers for weeks, undergoing several molts.
Eventually, their bodies harden, and they gain a deeper color.
Like huntsman spiders, wolf spiders live up to around a couple of years too.
We can observe a high degree of parental care among wolf spiders as well, with their mothers being even more caring than huntsman spiders.
Female wolf spiders first spin a ball-shaped egg sac and carry it around, attaching it to the spinnerets.
Once the eggs hatch, the newborn wolf spiders hitch a ride on their mother’s back until they are old enough to disperse away and live on their own.
Are They Dangerous?
Now, should you be worried if one of these spiders shows up in your home? Let’s see.
Although there have been instances of huntsman spiders biting humans, they are usually docile.
Females guarding their eggs are an exception – they can get quite aggressive when they feel threatened.
These spiders have a painful bite, but getting bitten doesn’t require hospitalization.
The venom of a huntsman spider can paralyze or kill other insects but mostly causes just pain and swelling in humans.
Wolf spiders are usually harmless unless they feel threatened. They have a venomous bite that can result in pain, swelling, and itching.
Getting bitten by a wolf spider may also cause symptoms like nausea, pulse, and dizziness too, but it’s quite uncommon.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you tell if it’s a huntsman?
You can distinguish a huntsman spider from a wolf spider by checking its eyes.
While a wolf spider has eight dark eyes arranged in a circle, huntsman spiders have two rows of forward-facing eyes.
Besides, most wolf spiders also have bear stripes on their backs.
Is a wolf spider friendly?
Although they might look scary, wolf spiders are a non-aggressive spider species unless they feel threatened.
A wolf spider can even make a good pet as they don’t need a lot of tending. These spiders can provide you with free pest control, hunting down insects in the dark corners of your home.
How poisonous is a huntsman spider?
Although wolf spider bites can inject venom through their bites, they aren’t very poisonous to the human body.
This venom is only strong enough to kill or paralyze other insects; they only cause mild symptoms like localized swelling, itching, and pain in humans.
Do wolf spiders remember you?
No, a spider’s brain isn’t sophisticated enough to recognize and remember faces. You need not fear retribution from a wolf spider you hurt or tried to kill.
Unfortunately, this also means that in case you have a pet wolf spider, it won’t recognize you as its owner.
Indeed, it can be quite hard to keep track of all the different kinds of spiders you may come across.
You just need to be careful of the particularly dangerous spiders, and neither huntsman nor wolf spiders fall into this category.
I hope you found what you came looking for and enjoyed reading this article.
These two large, scary spiders are both common in the US, and over the years, several of our readers have sent us emails asking us to distinguish which is which.
Sample some of these letters below.
Letter 1 – Huntsman Spider
father found this in florida and we think its a large wolf spider but not sure:
Your spider is a male Huntsman Spider, Heteropoda venatoria, also called a Banana Spider because they arrive from the tropics with banana shipments.
Letter 2 – Huntsman Spider
Subject: Big spider
Location: Yucca Valley CA
March 20, 2013 9:20 pm
Hi my daughter just found this spider in her room. She is refusing to go back in.
Can you identify this spider and its she at risk off being bit by more of them at night. Are they toxic to humans?
We live in the desert
Signature: Thanks!! Kimberly
This is a Huntsman Spider or Giant Crab Spider, and it is most likely in the genus Olios. North American Huntsmans Spiders and not considered harmful, though some tropical species are reported to have bites that might be dangerous to humans. If it is any consolation to your daughter, let her know that Huntsman Spiders are shy nocturnal hunters that prey upon Cockroaches and Scorpions and other creatures that she might dislike more than Spiders.
Letter 3 – Huntsman Spider
Subject: Beautiful Spider
Location: St. George Utah
November 6, 2013 12:34 pm
My Neighbor found this Spider on the outside wall of her home by their door and brought is over to out house in a container. she said that she was a Wood spider but I am not sure if she is. I have a hobby of photographing and I took quite a few pictures of her. my Neighbor Said that she was going to have some babies since she was fairly large But it is normal for spiders to be large. I would love to know what kind she is. thank you for your time!
I love all nature, bugs, animals, insect’s and so on.
This is a Huntsman Spider or Giant Crab Spider in the genus Olios. Spiders in this family do not build webs to snare prey, but rather hunt for prey during nocturnal rambles.
We believe it is entirely possible that this individual will lay eggs soon.
Letter 4 – Huntsman Spider
Subject: Large Brown Spider
Location: West Coast, USA, California
August 15, 2014 11:25 pm
I have a friend in Southern California that’s been finding large brown spiders in her house for the last few years, they have approximately a 5-6 inch leg span with a dark brown stripe on the butt. The only Californian spider I could find that was similar in body type was the long legged sac spider. I’ve attached a picture she took of one in her house, Any help would be appreciated; She’s lived in California for 30 years and has only started seeing these guys recently.
Signature: Scorpio Maurus
Dear Scorpio Maurus,
There is not enough detail in this image to verify the species with certainty, but we are confident that this is a Huntsman Spider or Giant Crab Spider in the family Sparassidae. Many species are nocturnal predators that wander about in search of prey including Cockroaches. They hunt without building webs. North American Huntsman Spiders are considered harmless. This may be Olios giganteus, and as you can see by comparing your description to this and other images on BugGuide, there is a dark brown stripe on the abdomen.
Letter 5 – Huntsman Spider
Subject: Spider in Poway Garden
Location: Poway CA
April 10, 2016 4:02 am
April 6th my kids found this spider in our empty rain gauge.. Poor guy is probably relocated now because it is pouring now! Thanks
This is a harmless, native Huntsman Spider or Giant Crab Spider in the genus Olios. They are nocturnal hunters that do not spin webs for snaring prey.
Great thank you! So it’s a good guy out in our garden. Great to hear. And I love your website. Keep up the good work!
Letter 6 – Huntsman Spider
Subject: Giant Huntsman Spider?
Location: Rural San Diego County, CA
April 12, 2016 8:21 pm
This bug was found in my home near the ceiling. He was never you big-perhaps 2-3″ wide and 1-2″ long. I live in a rural area and it is not uncommon to find Tarantulas in the house and MANY black widows outside. However, I’ve not seen this one before. A Google search leads me to believe it is a Giant Huntsman Spider & I would love to be sure so I can learn more about it. Thanks for your help!
Thank you so much for the prompt response! Sorry for the type-o in the first email.
Letter 7 – Huntsman Spider
Subject: Big Spider
Location: North Central Florida
May 5, 2017 3:55 pm
I was at work and was unpacking a new air handler that had been sitting in a storage shed for a good 10 years. When I pulled the cardboard off the front, this spider was staring at me right in the face. My boss said it was a brown recluse but I’m not sure. I didn’t think they got that big.
Signature: Eric Villar
This is most definitely NOT a Brown Recluse. It is a female Huntsman Spider, Heteropoda venatori, an introduced species that has naturalized in Florida and Texas. They most likely were introduced with banana shipments from Central America many years ago, so they are called Banana Spiders. This particular species of Huntsman Spider is harmless. They are nocturnal hunters that do not build webs and they will help keep Cockroaches under control. Here is a BugGuide image for comparison. According to BugGuide: “Can be swift and sometimes aggressive but not considered dangerously venomous to humans. May bite in self-defense if roughly handled; mildly painful bite (can be likened to a bee sting if spider injects venom).“