Are you ready to learn about one of the fiercest predators in the arachnid world? Look no further than the wolf spider.
With their incredible speed and impressive hunting abilities, these spiders are a force to be reckoned with.
Wolf spiders are a member of the arthropod family (like scorpions and ticks), and they’re considered the most common spider in the world.
They typically have a dark brown coloration with pale stripes or markings on their back, and unlike many other spiders, they do not possess antennae.
The sprinters of the spider world, wolf spiders chase and pounce on their prey like wolves. Hence the name. Once this spider catches its prey, it injects spider venom into it, liquifying the prey’s internal organs or mashing it into a ball.
Most of these spiders spend their time on the ground. Their dark colors help them blend in with decaying plant matter while hunting for insects. Interestingly, the coloration of wolf spiders can vary depending on their location.
Wolf Spider Characteristics
The adult wolf spider is hairy and quite big in size. They have eight dark prominent eyes that shine when hit with the light. Two large eyes gleam from the top of the cephalothorax (head), two more eyes peer out the front, and the rest form a row just above the mouth.
Its size ranges between ½ inch to 2 inches long. Like all arachnids, wolf spiders have eight legs and an additional pair of tiny leg-like appendages (also known as pedipalps).
Despite their unique features, wolf spiders are often mistaken for the brown recluse spider due to their similar size and coloration. However, the brown recluse spider typically has a solid brown color with dark marks on its violin-shaped head, which helps distinguish it from the wolf spider.
During the fall months and colder seasons, you may have a higher chance of encountering wolf spiders. These spiders are nocturnal hunters who actively search for prey during the night, which can lead them indoors. Once inside, they may seek refuge in dark and secluded areas such as basements, garages, closets, and even houseplants. While wolf spiders generally try to avoid humans and remain hidden, they can bite in self-defense if they feel threatened.
If you come across a wolf spider, it’s more than likely that it will retreat if you attempt to trap it. Although you may want to squish it, you probably shouldn’t, as hundreds of spiderlings may run away from their squished mother. This is because female wolf spiders carry their egg sac in a unique way. They attach it to their spinnerets and the bottom of their abdomen and later carry their spiderlings on their back.
- Brown Recluse Spiders: While they might look alike, the wolf spider is darker and has stripes on its body. The brown recluse is also less hairy.
- Hobo Spiders: Both spiders are brown and have white and gray hairs on their legs. However, Wolf spiders have three rows of eyes (as mentioned before), which is the main difference that will help you to tell these hobo and wolf spiders apart.
- Garden Spider: Garden spiders can be found in the same places where Wolf spiders are usually found, so it might be tricky to tell them apart. But Garden spiders are lighter and have darker legs.
- Nursery Web Spiders: Wolf Spiders and Nursey Web Spiders are almost the same size; however, Nursery Web Spiders have stripes on their legs, unlike wolf spiders, which have asymmetrical markings.
- Black Widow Spiders: Wolf spiders and black widow spiders are venomous arachnids. While the potency of their venom differs, both species use their venom to subdue their prey and defend themselves.
Wolf Spiders Habitat
These spiders have learned how to adapt, so they know how to live anywhere.
While some wolf spiders can be found on a freezing rocky mountaintop, others live in volcanic lava tubes. From rainforests to deserts, suburban lawns to grasslands, this spider can thrive anywhere it goes. One specie has even been found living (and thriving) in wheat crops feeding on aphids.
While wolf spiders can live just about anywhere, they like hiding and living on the ground of places like grass, inside logs, under rocks, or plants. They may even live in tree crevices or burrow themselves into the ground. When they’re at home, you can spot them in humid and warm areas such as sheds, garages, basements, windows, or doorways.
Wolf spiders will enter almost any structure in search of prey. Although this spider is not inclined to be a permanent resident, it often stays a while once inside. When indoors, these spiders tend to remain near or at floor level, especially under furniture and along walls. Outdoors, you can find these spiders under landscape timbers, stones, leaves, firewood, and other debris.
Wolf Spiders Reproduction
Wolf spiders have a unique and fascinating reproductive process. Like most spiders, the males and females must mate to reproduce. During mating, the male wolf spider will typically approach the female and attempt to court her through various behaviors, such as tapping her legs or abdomen.
If the female is receptive to the male’s advances, they will then mate. After mating, the female will lay her eggs in a silk-lined sac that she carries with her. Wolf spiders are unique in that they carry this egg sac with them wherever they go and will fiercely protect it from any potential threats.
The female wolf spider will continue carrying the egg sac until the spiderlings hatch, typically taking around two to three weeks. Once the spiderlings emerge from the egg sac, they will remain with their mother for several days or weeks, feeding on insects she has caught until they are large enough to hunt on their own.
Wolf Spider Bite Impact
These spiders do not pose a threat to people, as they’re not poisonous. However, the venom can cause an allergic reaction. A bite from this spider can resemble a bee sting.
If you have mild pain, itchiness, or swelling around the bite, it shouldn’t last long, and the pain should be gone after a couple of minutes. The swelling should decrease slowly; the itching may last a few days as the skin heals.
Although a wolf spider’s bite should not be a cause for alarm, keep an eye out for any symptoms of a wolf spider bite that may require medical treatment:
- Cramps or muscle tightening around the bite
- A rash that spreads out from the bite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Uncontrollable shaking
If you don’t see any improvement in your symptoms, seek medical help immediately. Your doctor may prescribe strong antihistamines to relieve itching, antibiotics to prevent infection, suggest surgery if the wound is deep (a rare case scenario), or a tetanus booster vaccination for extra protection.
How are Wolf Spider Bites and Stings Treated?
Treating this spider bite is much like any other measure you’d take for any insect bite.
First, gently clean the bite and the surrounding area with warm water and soap, and place a bandage on top to prevent infection.
If the bite is still itchy and swollen, you can place an ice pack on the wound or take a quick-acting antihistamine like Benadryl to avoid scratching.
How to Avoid Wolf Spiders and Prevent Bites?
It may be hard to believe, but wolf spiders are shy creatures making human and wolf spider encounters relatively rare. Unlike other spiders, Wolf spiders are always on the move and don’t like staying stagnant in their webs.
You can avoid these spiders by keeping your home clean and clutter-free, especially in dark rooms where spiders are most likely to hide. You may also want to wear long sleeves and pants when going outdoors, especially at night when it’s more likely these spiders are hunting.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Home
- Move all debris and wood piles at least 20 feet away from your home. These areas often shelter spiders, so moving them away from your home gives you an excellent barrier to keep them out of your house.
- Maintain neat landscaping and eliminate sheltering areas.
- Control general pests by eliminating food sources that attract spiders and other pests.
- Keep an eye out for burrow retreats and sweep down spider webs. Unlike common spiders, Wolf spiders build silk burrow retreats to catch their prey (ants, grasshoppers, crickets, among other defenseless insects)
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.