Members of the Lycosidae family, the wolf spider is just like its namesake – agile and quick with excellent eyesight. Living as lone wolves, these spiders do not spin webs and will sometimes hunt down their prey.
With more than 125 species of the wolf spider in the United States alone, it’s safe to say that this is one of the most common types of spiders. And because they’re larger in size, these spiders send most people running for the hills when they see them.
The good news? A wolf spider’s bite hurts, but it isn’t deadly. Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating spider.
Table of Contents
- Wolf Spider Identification
- How Dangerous is a Wolf Spider’s Bite?
- Wolf Spider Bite Symptoms
- Wolf Spider Bite Treatment
- Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse
- Other Terrifying Wolf Spider Facts
- Wolf Spider Prevention
Wolf Spider Identification
In Ancient Greek, Lycosidae means “wolf.” These spiders look a lot like nursery web spiders, but there’s one telling difference between the two: the way they carry their egg sacs. Wolf spiders attach their eggs sacs to their spinnerets, while nursery web spiders carry them with their pedipalps and chelicerae.
1. Body Structure and Size
There are many different types of wolf spiders, and they range in body size, depending on the genera. Some have bodies that are less than 0.4,” while others have bodies that are as big as 1.38.”
But regardless of their size, wolf spiders have eight eyes arranged in three separate rows. They have four eyes on the bottom row, two large and prominent eyes on the middle row and two medium-sized eyes on the top row.
Unlike other spiders, the wolf spider has excellent vision, and they rely on their eyesight when hunting. In fact, these spiders have the third best eyesight of all the spider groups. Jumping spiders and nocturnal huntsman spiders are the only ones that beat them in the eyesight department.
These critters also have an acute sense of touch.
Wolf spiders rely on camouflage for protection, allowing them to hide from predators and to take advantage of passing prey. For this reason, their coloring helps them blend in with the world around them. That’s why these spiders don’t have a flashy appearance like other spiders.
These spiders are sometimes confused with grass spiders because they’re similar in appearance. But grass spiders weave webs, while wolf spiders do not.
2. Diet and Feeding Habits
Most spiders spin webs to passively capture their prey, laying in wait for dinner to arrive. But wolf spiders don’t wait for late-night dinner delivery – they stalk and hunt down their prey.
Wolf spiders are nocturnal hunters, which is why you will see an eyeshine when pointing a flashlight at their eyes. These spiders will sometimes travel great distances in pursuit of their prey.
Some species of this spider will dig and hide in tubular burrows during the day. Others hide in silk lined burrows until they catch prey – and they’ll line the opening of the burrow with silk.
Because these spiders can be found in nearly every corner of the earth (except Antarctica), their diets vary significantly, depending on where they are in the world.
Wolf spiders will dine on local insects, other spiders and even larger prey, like amphibians and reptiles.
Like many other spiders, the wolf spider produces venom, which it injects into prey with its fangs. When they pounce on their prey and inject venom, it causes paralysis or death (usually death).
Wolf spiders rarely put down roots, and prefer to wander from place to place. But some will build borrows and stick around for a while until the food source runs dry.
Burrows usually have trap doors, which are open when the spider is out hunting.
Those that don’t build burrows may create temporary retreats in dense vegetation where they can stay hidden from sight.
Wolf spiders that live in arid climates will build turrets, which actually deflect the rain and floodwaters. Other species use rocks to block burrow entryways.
Those that live in woodland areas may use twigs to create a palisade near the top of the burrow.
New research on the wolf spider shows that males will actually cannibalize older female spiders. Males in the study sometimes mated or preyed on bypassing females, but older females had a greater chance of being eaten.
4. Habitat and Distribution
The wolf spiders can be found in just about every part of the world, so their distribution is vast. Higher populations are found inland and along the coast. The largest wolf spiders are found in North Carolina.
Part of the reason why these spiders are so widely distributed is because they often disperse aerially as juveniles and spiderlings.
These spiders thrive in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, dry shrublands, coastal forests, pastures and fields, and even alpine meadows. Some prefer to live in suburban areas.
Antarctica is just about the only place you won’t find the wolf spider.
5. Reproduction and Lifespan
Wolf spiders prefer to mate at night – and outside of the female’s burrow. Like other spiders, the male wolf spider is cautious when approaching females out of fear of becoming dinner.
Smaller species of the wolf spider will disperse by air to find mates. Males will pick up on a female’s scent, and they’ll perform an elaborate courtship ritual that involves palp and leg signaling.
Wolf spiders are unique in that they carry their carry egg sacks on their backs. They attach their egg sac, which looks like a round silken globe, to their spinnerets. Females have to keep their abdomens raised to prevent the sac from being dragged on the ground.
Amazingly, females are still able to hunt with their babies on their backs thanks to their flexible abdomen.
Another thing that makes these spiders unique is that they don’t just abandon their babies once they’re born. They carry their eggs on their backs for a period of 9-27 days. Once the eggs hatch, the spiderlings crawl up onto their mother’s back.
They stay on her back until they’re old enough to hunt on their own.
While males only live about a year (if they can escape from their mating partner), females can live several years under the right conditions.
How Dangerous is a Wolf Spider’s Bite?
Bceause wolf spiders are venomous creatures, most people assume they’re dangerous. And some species of this spider are considered dangerous.
But for the most part, the wolf spider’s venom isn’t potent enough to be a risk to be harmful to humans.
With that said, there are some people who are allergic to this spider’s venom. And their bite can be quite painful.
Wolf Spider Bite Symptoms
Wolf spider bites are painful, but their venom toxicity isn’t high enough to kill a human (unless you’re allergic to the venom – which is rare). Still, if you’re bit by one of these spiders, you’ll likely experience the following symptoms:
- Itchy skin
- Redness at the site of the bite
The pain from a wolf spider bite usually lasts about ten minutes.
Most people compare the pain of a wolf spider bite to a bee sting. While this spider’s venom is rarely harmful to humans, its effects really depend on the person’s immune system. Some people handle the venom better than others.
With that said, there is always the risk of developing an infection if you don’t keep the bite wound clean.
The good news is that wolf spiders rarely bite humans, and when they do, it’s typically out of self-defense.
Wolf Spider Bite Treatment
What happens if you’re bit by a wolf spider? Even though most wolf spider bites aren’t serious, it’s still important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
Follow the doctor’s recommended treatment, and keep the wound clean to prevent infection.
Until 1990, wolf spider bites were commonly treated with antivenom. But studies showed that the antivenom was unnecessary and sometimes did more harm than good.
Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse
Wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders are both brown in color, but there are some significant differences between these spiders that will help you identify which one you’re dealing with.
The first and most obvious difference is size. Brown recluse spiders are typically smaller in size. In fact, most are much smaller than wolf spiders.
But because some species of the wolf spider are also small, there’s one other identifying feature that will help you decide whether it’s a brown recluse or wolf spider.
- The brown recluse spider has an identifying violin-shaped marking on its head.
Other differences between these spiders include:
- Distribution: Wolf spiders are found virtually everywhere, but the brown recluse spider is really only found in the southeastern United States.
- Eyes: Wolf spiders have eight eyes in three rows, while brown recluse spiders have three pairs of eyes (six total). The wolf spider’s large obvious eyes is a key identifying feature.
- Legs: Wolf spiders have thick and stocky legs with spines, while recluses have thin, hairy legs.
- Colors: Wolf spiders have colored lines and patches, while recluses have a uniform color.
- Bites: A wolf spider’s bite can be painful, but a brown recluse bite can cause
Wolf spider bites are often associated with necrosis, but they don’t produce this effect. However, studies do show that about 24% of bites are severe. Pain is caused by trauma and not the venom itself.
Of course, you never want to get too close to any spider you see out in the wild or in your home just in case it happens to be venomous.
Other Terrifying Wolf Spider Facts
- You may not see a wolf spider until it’s too late. These spiders are dark brown to drab grey in color, which allows them to blend in with their environment. Because their appearance camouflages them into their environment, they’re able to sneak up on their prey and attack by surprise.
- The egg sac that the female wolf spider carries on her back can contain up to 100 eggs. If you step on a wolf spider who happens to be carrying her babies, all of them skitter across the floor.
- Wolf spiders have a pair of horizontal fangs.
- When females are ready to lay eggs, they lay down a sheet of silk and create a silken cup on top of that. The cup is where she lays her eggs. After this, she closes the cup, forms a round ball, and then holds onto it using her spinnerets.
- There are more than 100 species of the wolf spider in the United States.
- The wolf spider is a territorial species, and they’re not afraid to eat other wolf spiders if they get in their way.
Wolf spiders rarely bite humans, and they eat other insects, like mosquitoes, beetles and even roaches. But if you’re terrified of spiders or just don’t want these critters in your yard or home, there are a few things you can do to deter them from migrating into your territory.
Thankfully, these spiders don’t really like to hang out in homes and garages – unless you happen to live out in the woods.
Before you reach for heavy-duty chemicals, here’s something you should know:
- Wolf spiders are mostly solitary creatures, which means that removing or killing the lone spider in your home or yard will probably take care of the problem.
The only exception here is if you have a female carrying her babies. In this case, you don’t want to kill the spider. If you do, you could potentially have up to 100 spiderlings running around your home.
If you see a female wolf spider carrying her babies (and you’ll know if she’s carrying her babies because you’ll see them), DO NOT step on her. Your best bet is to somehow lure her out of your home. If she’s outside, leave her alone. Wolf spiders are wanderers, so she won’t stick around for long.
Now, if you’re sure you don’t have a female spider carrying babies and you have multiple wolf spiders getting into your home, there are a few things you can do.
1. Seal the Cracks and Gaps
The simplest way to keep wolf spiders – and most other insects and rodents – out of your home is to seal up any cracks or gaps that may let them inside.
Look for cracks and crevices around the foundation of your home and near doors and windows.
2. Keep Your Home and Yard Clean
A tidy home and yard will deter wolf spiders and most other spider species from entering your home or property.
Remove any wood piles, debris, old papers, boxes and anything else that may give this spider somewhere to hide.
These spiders also like to dig deep burrows, so be on the lookout for any holes in the yard.
3. Foggers and Pesticides
While an extreme solution, foggers and pesticides can help you get rid of your wolf spider problem.
Foggers can be purchased at any home improvement or big box store, and may be a good option if you have more than one type of spider invading your home (or other insects). Most foggers will kill multiple types of insects at once, so you can kill two birds with one stone by going this route.
Just make sure that you follow the directions carefully when using foggers. Most will require you to remove pets from the home for several hours.
Remember that pesticides will be harmful to other insects and animals, including your pets and bees.
If you do decide to spray pesticides, make sure that you follow the directions carefully to avoid any unwanted side effects.
4. Use Natural Population Control
Wolf spiders aren’t exactly at the top of the food chain. Other animals and insects eat these big spiders for dinner, so you can use that to your advantage.
Some of the animals and insects that eat these spiders include:
- Some wasps
- Other spiders
Some of these natural predators may already be nearby, and can help keep the population of wolf spiders under control.
You may not want to invite coyotes or wasps into your yard, but you can set up owl boxes and bird feeders or baths to help encourage these two natural predators to kill the spiders in your yard.
Natural population control is often the best method (provided it doesn’t cause any other issues) because you’re letting nature take care of the problem.
The wolf spider, while not a dangerous creature, can give you a scare when you see it in person. And while they are venomous creatures, their venom isn’t potent enough to harm humans.
Because they’re solitary creatures and usually prey on other insects we consider pests, it’s often best to just lure these critters back outside without harming them. But if you absolutely must get rid of the spider, you’ll be happy to know that there won’t be a pack of other spiders lying in wait in your home. Killing one usually takes care of the problem.
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