Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse: Unraveling the Key Differences

Wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders are two species that often capture people’s attention due to their appearance and reputation. While both can be found in similar environments, they exhibit distinct differences in their behavior, appearance, and potential health risks.

Wolf spiders, typically ranging from 1/2 inch to 2 inches in length, are known for their hairy, brown to gray bodies with various markings or lines. These spiders are not poisonous, and although bites may occur, they usually pose minimal threat to humans. On the other hand, brown recluse spiders are found mostly in the south, west, and midwest areas of the United States. They are easily identified by a dark violin-shaped marking on their head and a unique eye pattern of six eyes in pairs.

Understanding these differences can help you identify which spider you may have encountered and take appropriate precautions if necessary. While the wolf spider may look intimidating, it is the brown recluse that is known for causing painful and potentially harmful bites with its venom. Be cautious when exploring areas where these spiders might reside, such as dark corners, basements, or under rocks.

Species Identification

In this section, we will help you identify two different spider species: the wolf spider and the brown recluse.

Wolf Spider Identification

The wolf spider belongs to the Lycosidae family and comes in various species. They vary in size, ranging from 1/2 inch to 2 inches long. You can identify them by their appearance:

  • Hairy body
  • Brown to gray color
  • Markings or lines on their body

These spiders usually have eight eyes, arranged in three rows. As an example, some species of wolf spider may have this appearance:

  • Body color: Brown
  • Markings: Dark, longitudinal stripes

Now, let’s take a look at the brown recluse spider and how to identify it.

Brown Recluse Identification

The brown recluse spider, also known as Loxosceles reclusa, belongs to the Loxosceles genus. These spiders have some unique features that make them stand out from other species. Here are their characteristics:

  • Six equal-sized eyes
  • Dark violin-shaped mark on their head
  • Uniformly colored legs and abdomen (usually brown)

To give you a better understanding of the differences between these spiders, here’s a comparison table:

Feature Wolf Spider Brown Recluse
Eyes Eight, arranged in three rows Six, equal-sized
Body Size 1/2 inch to 2 inches long Smaller than wolf spiders
Markings Various markings or lines Dark violin-shaped mark on the head
Body Hair Hairy Less hairy
Body Color Brown to gray Brown

By using the guide above, you can compare and identify these two spider species quickly and easily. Just remember that their appearance may vary slightly. So, it’s good to look for multiple features to confidently determine the species you encounter.

Habitats and Locations

Wolf Spider Habitats

Wolf spiders can be found in various environments across North America. They prefer living outdoors, often in locations such as:

  • Rocks
  • Woodpiles
  • Gardens

These spiders are adaptable and can exist in different settings, including human habitation. However, they might wander into homes by accident or when seeking shelter, often found in basements or garages.

Brown Recluse Habitats

Brown recluse spiders are primarily located in the south, west, and midwestern areas of the United States. They generally prefer more secluded spots, with their habitats often being:

  • Under rocks
  • Dead tree bark
  • Basements
  • Cupboards
  • Drawers
  • Boxes

This species opts for indoor spaces where it can avoid disturbance, such as inside bedsheets or other similar locations1.

Comparison

Habitat Wolf Spider Brown Recluse
Preferred Environment Outdoors Indoors
Examples Rocks, woodpiles, gardens Basements, cupboards, drawers
Location Across North America South, west, and midwestern US

Behavior and Hunting Strategies

Wolf Spider Behavior

Wolf spiders are known for their nocturnal and aggressive hunting behavior. Unlike other spiders, they actively hunt their prey instead of relying on webs. These predators are also known to jump when stalking their prey, using their excellent vision to their advantage. Some key behaviors of wolf spiders include:

  • Actively hunting at night
  • Ambushing prey with jumps
  • Solitary lifestyle

Brown Recluse Behavior

In contrast, the brown recluse spider is more reclusive and solitary in its behavior. It prefers hiding in dark, undisturbed places such as under rocks or in drawers like this. While they are nocturnal, they adopt more of a sit-and-wait strategy for hunting their prey. Although not as aggressive as wolf spiders, they can still be dangerous due to their venomous bites. Here are some key features of brown recluse spiders:

  • Hiding in dark, secluded areas
  • Venomous bites, though not aggressive
  • Nocturnal, yet less active hunters
Feature Wolf Spider Brown Recluse
Hunting Style Actively hunt Sit-and-wait
Aggressiveness Aggressive Less aggressive
Prey Ambush Technique Jumping None
Activity Time Nocturnal Nocturnal
Social Behavior Solitary Solitary

As you can see, both wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders share some similarities, such as being nocturnal and solitary. However, their hunting strategies and level of aggressiveness set them apart, making each one unique in their own way.

Diet and Prey

Wolf Spider Diet

Wolf spiders are known for their ambush hunting strategy. They primarily feed on various insects, such as crickets and flies. Some examples of their diet include:

  • Crickets
  • Flies
  • Other small insects

Their hunting style involves stalking or pouncing on their prey, rather than spinning a web to catch it. They use their excellent eyesight and speed to locate and capture their food.

Brown Recluse Diet

On the other hand, brown recluse spiders have a different approach to their diet. They consume insects as well, but their main targets are usually small, soft-bodied insects such as:

  • Cockroaches
  • Moths
  • Beetles

To catch their prey, they employ a more passive strategy, such as building irregular webs in secluded locations where insects are likely to pass.

Wolf Spider Diet Brown Recluse Diet
Main Prey Crickets, flies Cockroaches, moths, beetles
Hunting Method Ambush, stalking, pouncing Irregular webs, passive

This comparison table helps to showcase the differences between the hunting methods and diets of wolf spiders and brown recluses. While both spiders primarily feed on insects, their approaches to capturing their prey differ significantly. Wolf spiders rely on their agility and speed, while brown recluses employ a more passive web-based strategy.

Webs and Reproduction

Wolf Spider Webs and Eggs

Wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders exhibit different behaviors when it comes to webs and reproduction. Let’s explore their unique characteristics.

Wolf Spiders:

  • They do not build elaborate webs for catching prey
  • Instead, they rely on their speed and agility to hunt
  • Females carry their egg sacs attached to their spinnerets
  • Once the eggs hatch, baby spiders climb onto the mother’s back for protection
  • They stay there until their first molt, after which they disperse

Brown Recluse Spiders:

  • They build small, irregular webs in dark, undisturbed areas
  • Often found in cracks, crevices, or corners
  • Webs act as a shelter rather than a prey-catching mechanism
  • Females lay eggs in a flattened, off-white egg sac
  • Usually produce around 1-5 egg sacs per mating season, each containing 40-50 eggs

Here’s a comparison table to summarize the differences in webs and reproduction between wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders:

Feature Wolf Spider Brown Recluse
Web No elaborate webs Small, irregular webs
Hunting method Speed and agility Uses webs as shelter
Eggs Carried on the female Laid in a flattened sac
Offspring care Babies on mother’s back No direct care

By understanding these key features, you can easily distinguish between wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders when it comes to their webs and means of reproduction.

Bites and Venom

Wolf Spider Bites

Wolf spider bites are generally not dangerous to humans. They’re not venomous, but their bites can still cause some mild pain and swelling. If you’re bitten by a wolf spider, you might experience a stinging sensation followed by mild redness and itching. However, these symptoms usually subside within a few days without any long-term consequences. It’s pretty rare to require medical attention for a wolf spider bite, but if you have severe reactions or a known spider allergy, it’s best to seek professional help.

Brown Recluse Bites

On the other hand, brown recluse spider bites can be more dangerous due to their venomous nature. Their venom can cause significant tissue damage and may lead to dermonecrotic arachnidism, a condition characterized by a localized skin lesion.

Here are some key differences between wolf spider bites and brown recluse bites:

Attribute Wolf Spider Bite Brown Recluse Bite
Venomous No Yes
Pain Mild Mild to Severe
Swelling Mild Moderate to Severe
Tissue damage Rare Possible
Medical attention Rarely needed Often needed

In the event of a brown recluse bite, you may initially feel a stinging sensation, followed by localized pain and a small white blister at the site. As time progresses, the bitten area can become swollen, red, and tender. In some cases, the venom may cause the skin to break down, leading to an open wound. This can become a more serious issue if the lesion becomes infected or if the venom spreads beyond the bite site.

If you suspect a brown recluse bite, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately. The sooner you receive treatment, the better your chances are of minimizing complications resulting from brown recluse venom toxicity.

Remember, both types of spider bites have the potential to cause discomfort, but brown recluse bites carry a higher risk of severe complications. If you’re unsure which spider bit you or if your symptoms worsen, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional or visit the nearest emergency room.

Comparison and Differences

Physical Differences

Wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders have distinct physical characteristics. For instance, wolf spiders are usually 1/2 inch to 2 inches long, hairy, and brown to gray with various markings or lines. On the other hand, brown recluse spiders are smaller with a characteristic dark violin-shaped marking on their head and six equal-sized eyes (most spiders have eight eyes). Here’s a comparison table to highlight the differences:

Feature Wolf Spider Brown Recluse
Size 1/2 inch to 2 inches Smaller than wolf spider
Color Brown to gray Brown with violin-shaped marking
Eyes 8 eyes 6 equal-sized eyes
Body Hairy Less hairy

Behavioral Differences

Their behavior also greatly differs. Wolf spiders tend to be more aggressive when disturbed, while brown recluse spiders are known for their reclusive nature and are less likely to bite unless threatened or provoked.

Habitat Differences

Wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders also have different preferred habitats. Wolf spiders can be found in various outdoor locations, such as under rocks and in grassy areas. Brown recluse spiders, on the other hand, prefer more secluded locations such as attics, basements, and cupboards.

In summary, these spiders have noticeable physical, behavioral, and habitat differences that can help you differentiate between them. Remember to always exercise caution around spiders, regardless of the species, as their bites may still cause discomfort or an allergic reaction.

Prevention and Control

Prevention Methods

To prevent infestations of wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders, you can take several steps. First, ensure that your home is sealed well. This means filling any gaps and holes both inside and outside your home. For example, you can use steel wool and caulk to close small holes and lath screen or metal sheeting for larger openings.

Next, keep your home clean and clutter-free. Spiders love hiding in dark, undisturbed areas, such as stacks of logs, boxes, or piles of clothes. By keeping these items organized and stored properly, you can reduce potential hiding places for spiders.

Finally, consider using spider traps to capture any intruders. Traps are a non-toxic method of controlling spiders and can help you monitor the effectiveness of your prevention efforts.

Professional Help

If you find that your home is infested with wolf spiders or brown recluse spiders, it is essential to seek help from pest control professionals. These experts can properly identify the spider species and devise a plan to get rid of the infestation safely and effectively.

Professional pest control teams have access to specialized tools and treatments to manage spider infestations. Relying on their expertise can provide you with peace of mind knowing that the issue has been handled correctly. Remember, brown recluse spiders pose a greater risk due to their toxic bites, so it is crucial to address any infestations promptly.

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Comparison Table

Feature Wolf Spider Brown Recluse
Size 0.4 – 1.38 inches 0.24 – 0.79 inches
Color Brownish-gray Light to dark brown
Markings Striped or spotted Dark violin-shaped marking
Bite Painful, non-lethal Toxic, can cause dermonecrosis

By following these prevention methods and seeking professional help when needed, you can maintain a spider-free environment in your home.

Footnotes

  1. Brown Recluse Spider Toxicity

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 – Wolf Spider

 

Can you tell me what kind of spider?
I found this spider on my bathroom floor this morning. I captured it in a cup and now I’m not sure what to do with it. I don’t really have the heart to kill it, but I also don’t really want it saying hello to me everyday when I go into the bathroom. I live in Princeton, NJ. Thanks for any info you can give me.
-Mike Tanasy

Hi Mike,
I hope you released the Wolf Spider outside where it can hunt down injurious insects.

Letter 2 – Wolf Spider

 

what kind of spider is this?
Hi; could you tell me what kind of spider this is .
I found it in my yard in Dorr MICHIGAN.
Im KEEPING IT AS A PET . I’ve had it for about a month. It likes crickets.
katrina

Hi Katrina,
It looks like a Wolf Spider from the Family Lycosidae. They live on the ground and hunt prey at night. Female spiders care for their young.

Letter 3 – Wolf Spider

 

Subject: Black wolf spider?
Location: Troy, VA
September 14, 2016 8:43 am
I saw this spider last night. It was up high at the junction between the exterior wall and a porch roof. I didn’t see any evidence of a web. I think I can just barely see a pale stripe running along its head. We have lots of wolf spiders in the area, but I have never seen one with this color variation before. It was a big spider, but I can’t really say for sure its size as it was quite far up the wall. Could this be a black wolf spider? I apologize for the indifferent quality of the photograph.
thanks for an invaluable website.
Signature: Grace Pedalino

Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider

Dear Grace,
We agree that your spider looks structurally like a Wolf Spider, and we agree with you that the black coloration is unusual.  While we cannot state for certain that the species is correct, your individual does resemble
Allocosa funerea which is pictured on BugGuide.

Letter 4 – Wolf Spider

 

Subject: Spider Identification
Location: 40.0911300,-79.5890170
March 2, 2017 11:39 am
Found in Everson Pennsylvania late February of 2017. The weather was warmer (58-63 degrees F). It was on an outside screen door.
Signature: Tiffany Lint

Wolf Spider

Dear Tiffany,
We believe your Wolf Spider is in the genus
Hogna, possibly Hogna baltimoriana which is described on BugGuide as being:  “Sternum black, chelicerae dark reddish to black. Abdomen yellowish with 5 or 6 chevrons posteriorly. Heart mark brown. Venter black posterior to the genital groove, patellae and coxae dark ventrally. Carapace lacks pale median and submarginal bands.”  This BugGuide image looks somewhat similar to your individual.

Letter 5 – Wolf Spider

 

Subject: What is this spider?
Location: Aiken, SC
July 9, 2017 2:10 pm
I suffer from extreme arachnophobia. My husband sent me this picture of a spider living in our storage building. My first instinct was to tell him to kill it with fire; but cooler heads prevailed and he just left it alone. I’m afraid that it is venomous and will have lots of little venomous babies in our building and the building and everything in it will have to be transferred to the ownership of the spider.
Signature: Arachnophobe Angie

Wolf Spider

Dear Angie,
This is a Wolf Spider, and we suppose it would make no difference to an arachnophobe, but Wolf Spiders are not considered dangerous to humans.  They are hunting spiders that do not build webs, so it is doubtful it will remain in one location very long.

Thank you so much for your reply! Although I am still terrified of it, it’s great to know it’s not actually a danger.
Thank you again!

Letter 6 – Wolf Spider

 

Subject:  Why is this spider pink?
Geographic location of the bug:  Loveland, Colorado
Date: 09/23/2017
Time: 11:33 PM EDT
I cannot find anything about why this wolf spider is pink? I found it today shoveling dirt in my yard.
I have several pictures if you’d like more.
Thank you!
How you want your letter signed:  Angelina

Wolf Spider

Dear Angelina,
We are pretty sure your Wolf Spider is a Carolina Wolf Spider,
Hogna carolinensis, a species that can be highly variable in color.  Individuals found in desert areas are frequently light or white in color like this BugGuide posting from Arizona or this BugGuide posting from Utah, and this individual posted to BugGuide from Montana is also white.  We would love to see additional images, especially a ventral view.

Letter 7 – Wolf Spider

 

Subject:  South Louisiana Spider
Geographic location of the bug:  South Louisiana
Date: 03/25/2018
Time: 09:30 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found my dog barking  and observed it was a fairly large spider I have not seen before. Was curious to find out which it is.
How you want your letter signed:  Glenn D

Wolf Spider

Dear Glenn,
This looks to us like a harmless Wolf Spider in the family Lycosidae.

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.

9 thoughts on “Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse: Unraveling the Key Differences”

  1. Hi Daniel & C. Neil,
    Yep, it’s definitely a wolf spider, though a tough call for me… it’s between genus Gladicosa and genus Schizocosa (e.g. like this). It’d be one I would have to examine in person under the microscope to tell for sure.

    Reply
  2. This is exactly like the spider I’m staring at right now. I have been moving around it, making noise, and it has remained in the same position in the bathtub the whole time — probably because it’s nice and cool. I knew it wasn’t a brown recluse and assumed it was a wolf spider, but NONE of the pictures online showed the elongated abdomen (coming to a point) and the distinct marking / stripe on what I believe is the thorax (?) — until I saw this post. Thanks for posting this — and for the answer! (Now I’m going to do the jar / card trick and put this guy outside!) And no not afraid of him (or her) YET. Bugs kinda fascinate me.

    Reply

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