Nursery Web Spider vs Wolf Spider: Unraveling the Intriguing Battle

Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders are two fascinating types of spiders commonly found in gardens and wooded areas. Both arachnids have distinct features and characteristics that set them apart, making it important for enthusiasts and homeowners to understand their differences.

Among the main distinguishing features of wolf spiders are their size, which can vary between 1/2 inch and 2 inches, their hairy bodies, and brown to gray coloring with various markings or lines. This species isn’t poisonous, though all spiders may still bite if threatened source. In contrast, nursery web spiders possess long legs and slender bodies, often with lengthwise striping. They can usually be found stretching their legs along plant and grass stalks, which helps provide camouflage against predators source.

While both spiders possess eight eyes, wolf spiders, in particular, have a more robust appearance and shorter legs compared to the nursery web spiders source. It’s essential for those interested in these creatures to understand these differences to correctly identify them and appreciate their unique roles in the ecosystem.

Nursery Web Spider vs Wolf Spider: Basic Characteristics

Physical Features

Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders have some similarities, but they also have distinct features.

  • Nursery web spiders are slender, have long legs, and often have lengthwise striping. They blend in with plant or grass stalks, usually positioning themselves with legs outstretched before and behind them 1.
  • Wolf spiders are larger, hairy, and usually patterned with a mixture of black, gray, and brown. They appear more robust, with shorter legs 2.

Here’s a comparison table for quick reference:

Feature Nursery Web Spider Wolf Spider
Body Shape Slender Robust
Legs Long Legs Shorter Legs
Coloring Lengthwise Striping Black, Gray, and Brown
Size Varies by species 1 1/2 inch to 2 inches long 3

Scientific Classification

Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders have different scientific classifications.

  • Nursery web spiders belong to the family Pisauridae and can be found in genus Pisaurina 1.
  • Wolf spiders, on the other hand, are classified under family Lycosidae and are a part of many different genera 2.

In summary:

  • Nursery Web Spider: Family Pisauridae, Genus Pisaurina
  • Wolf Spider: Family Lycosidae, Various Genera

Habitats and Distribution

North America

Both nursery web spiders and wolf spiders can be found throughout North America. They can be commonly seen in several habitats, including:

  • Meadows
  • Tall grass
  • Shrubs
  • Gardens

The distribution of these spiders varies, with some preferring specific environments. For example:

  • Nursery web spiders (Family Pisauridae): These spiders are often found around water sources and damp environments1.
  • Wolf spiders: They inhabit a wide range of terrestrial habitats, from grasslands to forests2.

United States

In the United States, both spider types are present in nearly every state. They can often be spotted in gardens and natural habitats alike.

Here’s a comparison table detailing the habitats of these two spider types:

Spider Type Habitats
Nursery Web Water sources, damp environments, meadows, tall grasses, and shrubs1
Wolf Spider Grasslands, forests, meadows, tall grasses, and shrubs2

While both spiders can be found in similar environments, they each have their unique characteristic features:

  • Nursery web spiders:

    • Carry egg sacs around with them1
    • Construct nursery webs for their young
  • Wolf spiders:

    • Hairy and generally larger than nursery web spiders3
    • Carry their egg sacs and young spiderlings on their back4

Diet, Hunting, and Prey

Feeding Habits

Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders have distinct feeding habits. Both of them primarily feed on insects. Some examples of their prey include:

  • Flies
  • Mosquitoes
  • Beetles

Hunting Adaptations

Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders possess unique adaptations for hunting their prey.

Nursery web spiders:

  • Use their long legs to snatch prey
  • Rely on their excellent vision

Wolf spiders:

  • Hunt at night using their keen eyesight
  • Utilize their powerful chelicerae (jaws) and fangs to capture insects

Comparison table:

Feature Nursery Web Spider Wolf Spider
Time of Hunt Mostly during the day Night
Prey Insects Insects
Hunting Style Ambushing Active hunters

In conclusion, although nursery web spiders and wolf spiders share some similarities in their diets, they differ in their hunting habits and adaptations. These differences allow them to thrive in different environments and efficiently capture their prey.

Reproduction and Parental Care

Egg Sacs and Webs

Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders both care for their egg sacs in unique ways.

Feature Nursery web spider Wolf spider
Egg sac protection Webs Carried by mother

Spiderlings and Dispersing

Similarities and differences are also apparent in how these spiders raise their spiderlings and help them disperse.

  • Nursery web spiders: Once the eggs hatch, the spiderlings stay within the nursery web for a short time before leaving.
  • Wolf spiders: After hatching, the spiderlings climb onto the mother’s back and ride around until they are partially grown.
Feature Nursery web spider Wolf spider
Spiderling care Stay in nursery web Ride on mother’s back

Overall, both spider types show unique reproductive strategies and parental care techniques.

Defense Mechanisms

Camouflage and Coloration

Nursery web spiders are known for their gray markings, which help them blend into their surroundings. This camouflage helps them avoid predators and get closer to their prey.

Wolf spiders, on the other hand, often have a brown stripe running down their backs, which aids in their camouflage when they’re in natural habitats like leaf litter or dirt.

Comparing the two spiders visually:

Spider Camouflage Markings
Nursery Web Spider Gray Gray markings
Wolf Spider Brown Brown stripe

Venom and Poisonous Traits

Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders both have venom, which is used to immobilize their prey. However, neither of these spiders are considered poisonous since they do not pose a significant threat to humans.

Some common features regarding their venom and poisonous traits include:

  • Both spiders possess venom
  • Neither are considered harmful to humans

While the venom of both spiders can immobilize small prey, they are generally not dangerous to humans. It is important to understand the distinction between venomous and poisonous – venomous creatures inject toxins, while poisonous animals release toxins when touched or consumed. In this case, the spiders are venomous but not poisonous.

Behavior and Interaction with Humans

Courtship and Mating Behavior

Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders exhibit unique courtship and mating behaviors:

Nursery web spiders:

  • Males present a nuptial gift to females
  • Female spiders are usually not cannibalistic during mating

Wolf spiders:

Pest Control and Gardens

Both spider species are helpful in controlling pests:

Nursery web spiders:

  • Common in gardens and fields
  • Prey on various insects

Wolf spiders:

  • Hairy and robust
  • Excellent eyesight and hunting skills
  • Found in burrows or near ground level
  • Control insects in gardens and homes

Comparison Table:

Feature Nursery Web Spider Wolf Spider
Courtship behavior Nuptial gift Pedipalps, body movements
Cannibalism during mating Uncommon Possible
Predatory skills Good Excellent
Habitat Gardens, fields Gardens, homes
Ability for pest control Moderate High

Overall, both spiders are beneficial for pest control, with wolf spiders being slightly more efficient due to their better hunting skills. Nursery web spiders and wolf spiders are generally not aggressive towards humans, but care should be taken when handling them to avoid bites.

Species Spotlight and Identification

Pisaurina Mira

Pisaurina mira, commonly known as the nursery web spider, belongs to the family Pisauridae and is native to the eastern United States, including states like Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These spiders have a distinct appearance:

  • Body size: approximately 0.6 to 0.8 inches (females) and 0.4 to 0.6 inches (males)
  • Coloration: Brown or grayish body with darker brown markings
  • Behavior: Often found near water and are known to carry their egg sacs with their pedipalps

Family Pisauridae

The Pisauridae family consists of fishing and nursery web spiders. Key features include:

  • Genera: Dolomedes and Pisaurina, among others
  • Habitat: Often found near water sources, in moist environments
  • Predation: Active predators, catching small aquatic insects and fish
  • Reproductive behavior: Female spiders build a nursery web for their spiderlings after hatching

Lycosidae

Lycosidae, also known as wolf spiders, are another family of spiders frequently encountered in the eastern United States. Some characteristics of wolf spiders include:

  • Body size: Varies, but generally larger (0.4 to 1.2 inches)
  • Coloration: Brown or grayish with various markings or lines
  • Behaviour: Known for their speed and agility, often observed running on the ground
  • Reproduction: Female spiders carry their egg sacs attached to their spinnerets, and spiderlings ride on their mother’s back until they are partially grown
Feature Pisauridae (Nursery Web Spider) Lycosidae (Wolf Spider)
Body Size 0.6 to 0.8 inches (females) 0.4 to 1.2 inches
0.4 to 0.6 inches (males)
Coloration Brown/gray with darker markings Brown/gray with various lines
Habitat Near water, moist environments Various, including grassy areas
Reproductive Behavior Nursery webs for spiderlings Egg sacs attached to spinnerets
Spiderlings ride on mother

Understanding the differences between the Pisauridae and Lycosidae families will help with accurate identification and appreciation of these fascinating creatures.

Multimedia Resources

When it comes to identifying and learning about nursery web spiders and wolf spiders, a variety of multimedia resources can be very helpful.

For high-quality pictures and photos of nursery web spiders, you can visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website. Likewise, the OSU Extension Service provides clear images of wolf spiders and their distinguishing characteristics.

Videos are another valuable resource. Watching spiders in their natural habitat allows you to observe their behavior and movements. YouTube has numerous videos featuring both nursery web spider and wolf spider.

Here is a comparison table of some features shared by both spiders:

Feature Nursery Web Spider Wolf Spider
Active During Daytime Day and Night
Hunting Technique Ambushing Active Hunting
Reproduction Female carries egg sac Female carries egg sac
Habitat Vegetation near water Various terrestrial areas

Some characteristics and habits of nursery web spiders include:

  • Carrying their egg sac with their mouthparts
  • Building a silk “nursery” for their spiderlings
  • Having noticeable lengthwise striping on their bodies

Key characteristics and habits of wolf spiders are as follows:

  • Brown to gray in color with various markings
  • Hairy appearance
  • Spiderlings ride on the mother’s back after hatching
  • Agile hunters with excellent eyesight

In conclusion, both photos and videos are excellent resources for observing and identifying nursery web spiders and wolf spiders. Comparing their features and characteristics can help you better understand these fascinating creatures.

Footnotes

  1. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/nursery-web-spiders 2 3 4 5 6

  2. https://www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/spiders/wolf/wolf.htm 2 3 4

  3. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/pests-weeds-diseases/insects/how-identify-wolf-spider 2

  4. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/pests-weeds-diseases/insects/how-identify-wolf-spider

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 – Male Nursery Web Spider

 

Large Brown Spider
May 24, 2010
Dear Bugman,
I found this spider on the side of our house yesterday and it’s still hanging out this morning. He’s about 1.5 to 2 inches in size, including legs. I don’t really see a web but he appears to be hanging a bit today. He’s tan to brown in color with a dark rectangle across the belly. Thanks!
Nature Lover in Ohio
Chardon, OH

Male Nursery Web Spider

Dear Nature Lover,
We believe, based on the large pedipalps, that this is a male Nursery Web Spider, Pisaurina mira.  You can compare your specimen to individuals posted to BugGuide.  We eagerly welcome a second opinion on this identification.

Letter 2 – Female Nursery Web Spider

 

Spider Dude
Hi,
Found this dude hanging out by my front door. Looked all over the net but can’t identify it.
Robert

Hi Robert,
This dudette is a female Nursery Web Spider, Pisaurina mira, and judging by her size, she is getting ready to create her nursery.

Letter 3 – Female Fishing Spider in her Nursery Web

 

spider
I am not certain what this is–glancing over your photos, my closest guess was Wolf spider but as those don’t make webs, it can’t be the case. As you can tell, this fellow makes a web–turning the entire top of this plant into a death trap. It’s a good sized spider–its body the length of the diameter of a nickel, maybe bigger. If you want, I have a few more pictures of

This is a female Dolomedes Fishing Spider in her Nursery Web. Fishing Spiders belong to the Nursery Web Spider family, and they are hunting spiders that do not spin webs to catch prey. The female Fishing Spider carries her egg sac in her jaws until she finds a suitable place to spin her nursery web. She continues to guard the nursery web even after the spiderlings hatch. Thanks for the wonderful photo.

Letter 4 – Fishing Spider with her Nursery Web and Spiderlings

 

Dock Spider with Egg Nest
Location: Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada
November 18, 2011 4:20 pm
I sat for almost an hour waiting for this shot. This was taken on a dock in Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada. She is absolutely gorgeous. The context is that the space she is sitting in is alomost 4” wide. We have always called them Dock spiders but it would be great to know if they have another name.
Signature: Scott

Fishing Spider with her Nursery Web

Dear Scott,
We try not to think too much about the letters that go unanswered, though we know that there are probably numerous overlooked gems that our readers will find interesting.  Today, we had a bit of time and we are randomly looking at unanswered requests.  We are thrilled we stumbled upon your submission.  We apologize for never responding earlier, especially since you waited for an hour to catch this awesome photo of a female Dock Spider or Fishing Spider,
Dolomedes tenebrosus (see BugGuide), protecting her Nursery Web full of spiderlings.  Many species in the genus are found in close proximity to the water and they are able to walk across the surface and dive beneath the water to escape predators.  Some are even known to hunt aquatic creatures like minnows and tadpoles, hence the common name Fishing Spider.  Like the rest of the family, these are hunting spiders that do not build webs, except for the care of their brood.  For that reason, they are also called Nursery Web Spiders.

Thank you Daniel.  I am glad you liked it.  I also managed to get a huge series of a male and female mating.  Interested?
Merry Christmas and all of the very besy in 2012
Scott

Letter 5 – Fishing Spider guards her Nursery Web

 

Subject: Big beautiful spider
Location: North Dakota
August 20, 2012 6:10 pm
I’m not good at spiders! I’m actually a bit afraid of them, but recently I’ve become fascinated with this spider, who lives beside a bridge in North Dakota. She’s pretty big, about three inches. I’ve been calling her a wolf spider, but that doesn’t seem to be right. I’ve submitted pictures where you can see the patterns on her body, which I think are really interesting. Do you know what she is? Thanks!
Signature: Amanda

Fishing Spider with her Nursery Web

Dear Amanda,
We love your photographs.  This is a female Fishing Spider or Dock Spider in the genus
Dolomedes.  Fishing Spiders are in the Nursery Web Spider family, and they get that name because the females exhibit extreme maternal care of the eggs and spiderlings.  When the female Nursery Web Spider lays her egg sac, she carries it around in her chelicerae or jaws until she finds a suitable location for spinning her nursery web.  She continues to guard her spiderlings until she dies or until they disperse.  Fishing Spiders in the genus Dolomedes are named because many members in the family are closely associated with aquatic habitats and they can run across the surface of the water and they often dive beneath the surface of the water to escape predators.  There are even reports of Fishing Spiders diving beneath the surface of the water to capture small fish and tadpoles.

Fishing Spider guarding her Nursery Web

We enlarged one of your images to get a better view of the spiderlings.  We believe your spider might be Dolomedes tenebrosus, which according to BugGuide, is found in North Dakota.  It is one of the most northern ranging of the Fishing Spiders.

Fishing Spider Spiderlings

 

Letter 6 – Fishing Spider spins Nursery Web

 

Subject: Mama fishing spider
Location: Littleton, NH
July 23, 2013 6:32 pm
Hi!
We have a VERY protective mama Fishing Spider who attached her egg sac to our screen door this last Saturday. Many of the babies have hatched and she has spun a beautiful web in the corner of the screen to protect then. While we love seeing nature at work, we do have two small children who want so badly to get close to them and Mama does not appreciate it! How long can we expect them to stick around before heading off on their own?
Signature: The Woodsons

Fishing Spider Spins Nursery Web
Fishing Spider Spins Nursery Web

Dear Woodsons,
We don’t know exactly how long a Fishing Spider will guard her nursery web, but we speculate that the spiderlings will begin to disperse after about a week.

Letter 7 – Male Nursery Web Spider

 

Subject: Large spider
Location: East Tennessee. Johnson city
April 30, 2016 2:09 pm
Just curious about what type of spider this is.
Signature: Halston Brooks

Male Nursery Web Spider
Male Nursery Web Spider

Dear Halston,
We believe this is a male Nursery Web Spider,
Pisaurina mira, a species well represented on our site, though we generally receive images of female Nursery Web Spiders.  Males have much larger pedipalps, the leglike appendages that are near the chelicerae or fangs.  According to the Spiders of Kentucky:  “Like the chelicerae, a spider’s pedipalps are part of its mouth, and are located just between the chelicerae and first pair of legs on the cephalothorax. Pedipalps are jointed, and look somewhat like small legs. They are not used like legs, though.  Instead, they are more like antennae: pedipalps help the spider sense objects that it encounters.  Some spiders also use their pedipalps to shape their webs and to aid in prey capture and feeding.  Pedipalps are used by male spiders to transfer sperm to female spiders.  In fact, you can usually distinguish a male spider from a female because of the male’s enlarged pedipalps.  All arachnids have pedipalps, but they often look quite different than spider pedipalps.  In Scorpions, for instance, the large pincers are actually modified pedipalps.”  Nursery Web Spiders do not spin webs to snare prey.  The female builds a nursery web to protect the young and both sexes hunt rather than to wait passively for prey.  Here is a BugGuide posting that illustrates the eye arrangement which we used to identify your individual.  Our big doubt regarding this identification was the size of the spinnerets visible in your individual.  We did locate an image of an adult male on the Spiders In Ohio site that possesses similar spinnerets (scroll to view image), the organs used in spinning silk.

Male Nursery Web Spider
Male Nursery Web Spider

Letter 8 – Another Nursery Web Spider from Panama

 

Subject: Another long-legged flat spider from Darien
Location: Darien, Panama
April 13, 2017 3:37 pm
This spider was in the same vicinity as one I posted recently (2017/04/13/nursery-web-spider-panama-believe/ ). This one looks like it could be the same species but it has a tiny triangular abdomen.
Signature: Peter H

Nursery Web Spider

Hi again Peter,
This does look like the same species of spider to us, and the smaller abdomen might be due to this particular individual not having fed in some time.  Including the image of the Spider’s face is a big assistance in confirming that both this individual and the previous individual are indeed Nursery Web Spiders, and probably Fishing Spiders in the genus
Dolomedes, because the eye pattern on your Spider matches the genus pattern pictured on BugGuide.

Close-up of the face of a Nursery Web Spider showing Eye Pattern
Nursery Web 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.

1 thought on “Nursery Web Spider vs Wolf Spider: Unraveling the Intriguing Battle”

  1. So I found a spider in my screen and I have never seen it before. I am petrified of spiders so I am freaking out because I tried to get it off my screen and it fell and can not find it. I can not add a picture but it looked orange and like the first picture.

    Reply

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