Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: Key Differences Explained

Spiders are fascinating creatures often found in and around our homes. Two common types of spiders that you may come across are the parson spider and the wolf spider. While both spiders have distinctive features and behaviors, they are often mistaken for each other by homeowners and nature enthusiasts alike.

The parson spider is a relatively small and hairy arachnid with a unique white dorsal pattern on its abdomen, which resembles a clerical collar, earning it its name. On the other hand, wolf spiders can be larger, ranging from 1/2 inch to 2 inches in length. They are typically brown, black, gray, or yellow with various markings, and do not have the distinctive pattern found on the parson spider’s abdomen.

One main difference between these two spiders is their method of hunting. Wolf spiders are athletic hunters that run down their prey, as opposed to spinning webs. In contrast, the hunting methods of parson spiders are less well-known, but they are usually found within human dwellings. As we delve further into the world of these fascinating creatures, we will compare and contrast their characteristics and behaviors to better understand the roles they play in their respective ecosystems.

Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: Overview

Parson Spider Overview

The Parson Spider (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus) is a hairy species with a distinct appearance. Key features include:

  • Flat-lying black hairs on cephalothorax
  • Gray hairs on the abdomen
  • Chestnut brown exoskeleton
  • White dorsal pattern resembling a clerical collar

Wolf Spider Overview

Wolf Spiders are typically brown or gray with markings. Some characteristics of wolf spiders are:

  • Size ranges from 1/2 inch to 2 inches long
  • Hairy appearance
  • Mothers carry egg sacs and spiderlings on their back
  • Fast-moving, typically seen running on the ground

Below is a comparison table highlighting the differences between parson spiders and wolf spiders:

Feature Parson Spider Wolf Spider
Size Smaller than wolf spiders 1/2 inch to 2 inches long
Color/Markings Black and gray hairs Brown or gray, various markings
Unique Characteristics White dorsal pattern Mothers carry egg sacs and spiderlings
Movement/Behavior Not mentioned in the sources Fast-moving on the ground

While both spiders are unique species, the Parson Spider’s distinct appearance sets it apart from the Wolf Spider. On the other hand, Wolf Spiders exhibit more extensive parental care and are known for their speed and agility on the ground.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Appearance

  • Parson Spider: The Parson Spider is a fairly hairy spider with a relatively small size, its exoskeleton appearing chestnut brown.

  • Wolf Spider: Wolf Spiders are typically larger in size, ranging from 1/2 inch to 2 inches in length, and have a more robust appearance.

Color and Markings

  • Parson Spider: This spider has flat-lying black hairs on its cephalothorax and gray hairs on its abdomen. It has a distinctive white dorsal pattern on its abdomen, resembling a clerical collar.

  • Wolf Spider: These spiders come in colors from brown to gray, usually adorned with various markings or lines.

Eye Arrangement

  • Parson Spider: The eye arrangement of the Parson spider is not specifically mentioned in the provided search results.

  • Wolf Spider: Wolf Spiders have a unique eye arrangement, with their eyes arranged in three rows, making them easily recognizable when compared to other spiders.

Feature Parson Spider Wolf Spider
Size Smaller, with a chestnut brown exoskeleton 1/2 inch to 2 inches long
Color and Markings Black and gray hairs, distinctive white pattern Brown or gray, various markings or lines
Eye Arrangement Not mentioned Unique with three rows of eyes

These spiders can be easily differentiated based on their size, color, markings, and eye arrangement. Their unique physical traits allow for easy identification when comparing the two species.

Legs and Movement

Parson Spider Legs and Tarsal Claws

The Parson spider has distinctive legs with a chestnut brown exoskeleton. Its limbs are jointed, allowing for easy movement. One key feature is their tarsal claws, which help them grip surfaces and efficiently move around.

  • Legspan: Varies depending on the individual
  • Morphology: Hairy, with flat-lying black hairs on the cephalothorax and gray hairs on the abdomen

Wolf Spider Legs and Speed

Wolf spiders are known for their athleticism and speed. They possess long legs that enable them to effectively run down their prey.

  • Legspan: Ranges from 1/2 inch to 2 inches
  • Morphology: Long legs, usually gray, brown, black, or tan with dark brown or black body markings

Here is a comparison table of their features:

Feature Parson Spider Wolf Spider
Legs Jointed, chestnut brown Long, athletic
Tarsal Claws Aid in gripping surfaces Not specified
Legspan Variable 1/2 inch to 2 inches
Morphology Hairy body, distinctive Gray, brown, black or tan
Movement Efficient Fast, skilled at running down prey

Overall, both Parson and Wolf spiders have unique leg and movement characteristics. While the Parson spider’s legs and tarsal claws provide efficiency and grip, the Wolf spider’s long legs enable speed and athleticism for hunting prey.

Family and Species Information

Gnaphosidae Family

The Gnaphosidae family includes the Parson Spider, known by its scientific name Herpyllus ecclesiasticus. The Parson Spider is characterized by its flat-lying black and gray hairs as well as a distinctive white dorsal pattern on its abdomen resembling a clerical collar 1.

Lycosidae Family

In contrast, the Lycosidae family consists of Wolf Spiders, which are typically 1/2 inch to 2 inches long and covered in brown to gray hairs 2. They carry their egg sacs with them and are not poisonous 2.

Eastern Parson Spider

A key example of a Parson Spider is the Eastern Parson Spider. This species sports the characteristic white dorsal pattern on its abdomen and is part of the Gnaphosidae family 1.

Hogna Carolinensis

An example of a prominent Wolf Spider is Hogna Carolinensis, which belongs to the Lycosidae family. It is among the largest and most commonly found Wolf Spiders in the United States 3.

Comparison Table:

Feature Eastern Parson Spider Hogna Carolinensis
Family Gnaphosidae Lycosidae
Size Smaller than Wolf Spiders 1/2 inch to 2 inches
Color Black and gray hairs Brown to gray hairs
Abdomen Pattern White dorsal pattern Contrasting spots/stripes
Poisonous Information not available Not poisonous
Notable Characteristics Clerical collar-like pattern Egg sac carrying

Reproduction and Lifespan

Female Spiders and Egg Sac

Parson Spider: The female Parson spider carries her egg sac attached to her spinnerets until the spiderlings are ready to emerge.

Wolf Spider: The female Wolf spider carries her egg sac behind her, also attached to her spinnerets. When the spiderlings are ready to hatch, they climb onto their mother’s back.

Spider Type Egg Sac Carrying Method
Parson Spider Attached to spinnerets
Wolf Spider Behind, attached to spinnerets

Young Spiders and Spiderlings

Parson Spider: Parson spider young emerge from the egg sac, ready to begin life independently.

Wolf Spider: Wolf spider spiderlings stay on their mother’s back until they are partially grown, at which point they disperse to live independently.

  • Parson spider: no mother-spiderling bonding
  • Wolf spider: spiderlings ride on mother’s back

Wolf spiders typically have longer lifespans than Parson spiders. However, both species face various challenges in their environment, which can impact their survival and overall lifespan.

Habitat and Hunting Behavior

Locations and Habitats

Parson Spiders:

Wolf Spiders:

  • Widespread in the USA and Canada
  • Habitats: moist areas, grasslands, and forests

Example: Parson spiders are commonly found under rocks and leaves in yards, while wolf spiders might be seen near water sources or grassy areas.

Hunting and Prey

Parson Spiders:

  • Hunting: active hunters, no webs
  • Prey: small insects

Wolf Spiders:

Example: Both Parson and wolf spiders actively hunt for prey instead of using webs to catch their food.

Spider Locations Habitats Hunting Prey
Parson USA and Canada Under rocks, leaves, wood Active, no webs Small insects
Wolf USA and Canada Moist areas, grasslands, forests Active, no webs Small insects, sometimes other spiders

Seasonal changes:

  • In the fall and winter, both spider species may seek shelter in human structures due to colder temperatures.

Example: During colder months, both Parson and wolf spiders may be found in basements or garages, seeking warmth.

Identifying Parson and Wolf Spiders

Distinct Features

Parson Spider:

  • Cephalothorax with a chestnut brown exoskeleton
  • White “cravat” or neckband pattern on gray abdomen, resembling clergy attire
  • Small white spot above spinnerets1

Wolf Spider:

  • 1/2 inch to 2 inches long, hairy, brown to gray with markings or lines2
  • Mother spiders carry egg sacs and spiderlings on their back2

Example of a comparison table:

Feature Parson Spider Wolf Spider
Size Smaller 1/2 inch to 2 inches
Color Chestnut brown and gray Brown to gray
Pattern White “cravat” on abdomen Markings or lines

Common Misconceptions

  • People often confuse parson spiders with brown recluses or black widows, but they’re not venomous like their lookalikes1.
  • Similarly, wolf spiders are often mistaken for brown recluses, but wolf spiders are not poisonous and their bites, although painful, usually only cause localized swelling2.

Pros and cons of parson spiders:

Pros:

  • Non-venomous and not harmful to humans1

Cons:

  • Their presence might cause alarm due to similarities with venomous spiders1

Pros and cons of wolf spiders:

Pros:

  • Not poisonous; bites are generally not dangerous2

Cons:

  • Bite can cause pain and localized swelling2

Venom and Human Interaction

Venomous Spiders

Parson spiders and wolf spiders are both venomous. However:

  • Parson spiders possess a venom that may cause mild reactions in humans.
  • Wolf spiders’ venom generally does not cause severe symptoms in humans.

Comparison of Venomous Spiders:

Spider Venom Potency Human Reaction
Parson Spider Mild Mild Reaction
Wolf Spider Mild Mild Reaction

Allergic Reactions

Although the venom from these spiders is usually not dangerous, some individuals may experience allergic reactions. Symptoms of such allergic reactions can include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Rash
  • Itching

Safety Measures

To avoid spider bites:

  • Be cautious when moving items in dark, cluttered spaces (e.g., garages) where spiders may be hiding
  • Wear gloves when handling outdoor objects
  • Seal cracks in your home’s foundation to prevent spiders from entering

By identifying venomous spiders and being aware of their habitats, you can reduce the risk of bites and allergic reactions.

Footnotes

  1. Parson Spider – Penn State Extension 2 3 4 5 6

  2. How to identify a wolf spider | OSU Extension Service 2 3 4 5 6 7

  3. Wolf Spiders – Penn State Extension

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 – Parson Spider

 

Parson Spider
Location:  Atlanta, Ga. USA
September 8, 2010 10:55 pm
Hello!
Thanks to your site, which led me to Bug Guide, I think I have identified our mystery spider. We found it indoors in a suburb near Atlanta, Ga. USA. I’m reasonably sure it is a Parson Spider, and since I see no pictures of Parson Spiders on your site I thought I’d offer mine. The poor thing is missing 2 legs (not our doing), but it’s easily identifiable nonetheless.
Love your site. Thanks!
(PS- I am resending this as it apparently did not go through earlier. I sure hope I’m not sending multiple copies, and if I did then I apologize!)
Signature:  Kit

Parson Spider

Hi Kit,
Thanks so much for sending and then resending this image of a Parson Spider,
Herpyllus ecclesiasticus.  We actually do have other images buried deep in our archive, but your letter has given us the opportunity to create a new category for the family Gnaphosidae, the Ground Spiders, and then move our other letters with photographs of Parson Spiders into that category.

Letter 2 – Western Parson Spider

 

Subject: Wolf Spider?
Location: Southern California
May 21, 2013 1:03 am
Hi there. I’ve been getting a few of these spiders coming inside for a visit. This most recent one had a bit of yellow to his marking. They all have the pincers that extend from the abdomen. Am guessing they’re wolf spiders, but not sure.
This particular spider was tangled in a mouse glue pad and was easy freed outside once I got his leg free. Thanks for helping identify.
Signature: Kevin

Western Parson Spider
Western Parson Spider

Hi Kevin,
This is a Parson Spider in the genus
Herpyllus, and thanks to your letter, we now know that there is both an Eastern Parson Spider and a Western Parson Spider, Herpyllus propinquus.  According to BugGuide:  “H. propinquus is basically identical in appearance to H. ecclesiasticus, and examination of reproductive organs is needed for positive identification.”  What you are referring to as “pincers” are actually spinnerets.  Because of your kindness releasing this hapless Western Parson Spider, we are tagging you as a Bug Humanitarian.

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.

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  • 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.

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18 thoughts on “Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: Key Differences Explained”

  1. We just found one of these spiders in our son’s room tonight. We’re in a little town called Foresthill in Northern CA. I’ve lived here since I was 5 in 1980 & have never seen one of these. My brave husband caught him in our bug vacuum & just released him outside. Hopefully he’ll stay out there.

    Reply
  2. My wife just found one in her closet. It took a while but we were finally able to I.d. it with Google’s help. Unfortunately I paniced and killed it. I had seen a brown recluse before but wasn’t sure this wasn’t one. That’s why I killed it… I also killed 22 black widows within a weeks time. And a few jumping spiders here too. Also one or two daddy long legs and several small field roaches… Bakersfield. CA

    Reply
    • Daddy longlegs spiders eat other spiders like black widows, from what I heard. You may be killing your allies there. Also, jumping spiders are not harmful and very friendly! Please try to catch and release ♡♡♡

      Reply
  3. I just killed one of these in Wisconsin on my wall. shi y black with white. overnight i got something like a bee sting on my hand and its very red and painful so I was worried this one caused it. ive been finding immature ones like this on my kitchen counter and they are brown and extremely fast moving. this black mature one wasnt moving at all. i hope i dont find any more.

    Reply
  4. We found these around our apartment in Montreal as kids. I used to trap them in my little insect container. These spiders are very aggressive. I trapped another Comb Clawed Spider in there with it. The Comb Clawed was twice its’ size. I remember the Parson chased it and killed it in a matter of seconds.

    Reply
  5. I found a Western Parson Spider~Herpyllus propinquus ~ in Southern California, near Riverside.
    Are these biters, and are they in any way poisonous or dangerous, even slightly?
    This site does not condone exterminating any insects, but are so non-committal that I have to err on the side of safety until I find out with certainty.
    So, if you want to save a spider’s life, tell me they’re (with certainty and authority)?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  6. I found a Western Parson Spider~Herpyllus propinquus ~ in Southern California, near Riverside.
    Are these biters, and are they in any way poisonous or dangerous, even slightly?
    This site does not condone exterminating any insects, but are so non-committal that I have to err on the side of safety until I find out with certainty.
    So, if you want to save a spider’s life, tell me they’re (with certainty and authority)?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • To the best of our knowledge, the only problematic North American spiders are the Widow Spiders and the Recluse Spiders, and the latter are not found in California. Western Parson Spiders do have venom, and it is possible that a large individual might bite a human, but we find that unlikely. We are not entomologists, nor do we have any authoritative credentials in the sciences, so we are reluctant to make statements with certainty.

      Reply
  7. I just woke up and found one by my sleeping daughters head unfortunately I killed it didn’t know if it was poisonness couldn’t risk it

    Reply
  8. I think there is one of these living above my front door, in San Diego – it hides when I open the door, but otherwise just hangs out up there. Ordinarily, I am scared to death of spiders, but I’ve let this one be since, frankly, it’s not inside the house, and it seems rather harmless and a little shy. I base my assumptions on the white markings on the abdomen, and the fact that the legs look very similar, as well – I haven’t gotten too close, to be honest 🙂

    Reply
    • By the sound of it staying in one place like that, maybe it could be a noble false widow. I have one in my bathroom window above the shower. She’s lovely and keeps to herself and catches flies for me. She’s not dangerous, I looked it up. Sometimes if I stand on the edge of the shower to peek at her she hides in the corner of the window.

      Reply
  9. I’m in southeastern New Hamshire. I had never seen this spider before so had to look it up. I found it floating , alive, in a plastic thermal tumbler of sugar-free Fruit Punch left on the counter overnight. I was shocked by it size and that it must’ve crawled through the small straw-hole in the cover.

    Reply
  10. I just found an inch long Parsons spider on the wall by my bed. Caught it carefully with a jar (as is our family’s habit) and took a moment to identify because of it’s beautiful markings. About a week ago I got a itchy spider bite on my thigh that created a slightly pink 5 inch ring around it that went away fairly quickly. Most likely it was a bite from this one and I’m kinda happy that won’t reoccur. The spider will get placed across the street or in the fields away from others. We almost never kill spiders. All my kids have been taught to catch them carefully with jars and to put them outside. We just sneak up on them, place the jar and carefully slide a thin but strong type of paper underneath that is held on top of the jar until you get the lid on or you can just hold the paper firmly on while transporting the spider. Glossy ad flyers or thicker brochures are good. We try to be careful to not harm the spiders legs while sliding the paper between the floor or wall and the top of the jar. We use drinking glasses as well and enjoy looking at the spider getting to know it a bit before releasing it.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the helpful tip on removing Spider (and other small arthropods) from the home in a manner that protects both the spider and the human. Daniel recommends a martini glass.

      Reply

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