Wolf spiders are unique arachnids in many ways. Not only is their hunting style different from most other styles, but they also have some unique physical features and parenting skills. In this article, we’ll talk about how to identify a wolf spider, as well as answer related questions you may have.
What You'll Learn Today
What are the Characteristics of a Wolf Spider?
There are many different kinds of wolf spiders, but they all share some defining characteristics that make them easier to identify. Let’s take a closer look at some of these characteristics.
- Coloring: Wolf spiders come in various colors, mostly brown, gray, black, tan, pale orange, or cream. They have well-defined stripes or mottled splotches on their bodies to help them camouflage in their surroundings.
- Hairy body: Wolf spiders are known for being covered in hair. Some have relatively smooth legs, while others have more hairy legs, but all of them are covered in a layer of “fur” on the main parts of their bodies.
- Eyes: Wolf spiders have eight eyes arranged in three rows on their head. The four eyes on the bottom row are small, the two in the middle row are large, and the two on the top row are generally medium-sized and facing toward the sides of the head.
- Riding piggyback: If you’ve ever seen a spider scurrying along the ground wearing a “coat” of baby spiders on her back, you almost certainly saw a wolf spider. Female wolf spiders will carry their young around on their back until the babies get old enough to strike out on their own.
- Hunting: Wolf spiders don’t build webs to trap insects; instead, like wolves, they kill their prey by stalking it and then jumping on its back and delivering a killing bite. Wolf spiders are determined hunters, often running across land, swimming in water, and climbing trees or other structures to reach their next meal.
How are Wolf Spiders Different from Most Spiders?
So, when you see a spider on the ground, how can you tell whether it’s a wolf spider or any other arachnid? What sets them apart from other types of spiders?
Let’s find out.
- Size: Wolf spiders may look like common house or garden spiders, but they are generally much bigger. Though there are many species and not all of them are large, the size of a wolf spider is generally one thing you can use to determine what kind of spider you’re looking at.
- Hunting style: As mentioned above, wolf spiders stalk and capture their prey rather than building webs for the prey to get caught in. This hunting style is one of their defining characteristics; so, if you see a spider on the ground, in the water, or on some other surface, chowing down on an insect with no web in sight, you’re probably looking at a wolf spider.
- Silk: Since wolf spiders don’t build webs, they don’t produce as much silk as other types of spiders. That said, the females will create silk strands as a way to attract males when it’s time to mate, and they will also wrap their eggs in silk egg sacs to carry around on the underside of their abdomen.
How Big Can a Wolf Spider Get?
We already established that wolf spiders are usually much larger than most common yard and house spiders, but just how big do they get?
There is no simple answer. There are many different species of wolf spider, so come in many different sizes; in fact, some of the smallest ones may be even smaller than other spiders with similar colors and markings.
Again though, most species of wolf spider grow quite large. They can generally reach up to 1.5 inches in body length, not including the legs, which can make them look even larger.
Some wolf spiders can grow up to 2 or even 3 inches long.
Though even the largest wolf spiders are far from being the biggest spiders in the world, they can still be a frightful sight when compared with other common spiders in the yard.
Check out this video to see just how large these spiders can get.
Where are Wolf Spiders Most Common?
Wolf spiders are extremely widespread and adaptable to many different environments; as long as they have a consistent supply of insects for food, they can live almost anywhere. About 2,300 species have been described in the world.
They are particularly found in North America, particularly throughout the United States, where as many as 250 species can be found. They are perhaps the most common in states such as Missouri and Texas, and in California, they are so widespread that they’re sometimes called “California wolf spiders.”
Wolf spiders are usually found on the ground since they don’t build webs. They like lots of different places that provide ample food sources and hiding spots, so they are common under thick groundcovers, dense plant life, wood piles or logs, etc.
They are found in both coastal and non-coastal regions. Some of their common habitats include scrublands, woodlands, coastal forests, meadows, backyard gardens, and even the inside of homes and buildings; they are also common in deserts, mountains, rainforests.
Is a Wolf Spider Good to Have Around?
Generally speaking, wolf spiders are good to have around. They eat lots of insects and are generally not aggressive.
For these reasons, it’s usually okay if you have a few of them taking up residence in your house. They try to avoid being seen and, if you accidentally disturb them, they will typically run away before biting.
That said, wolf spiders will bite if they feel acutely threatened. Though their bite is generally not harmful, it can be painful, cause minor swelling, and some species of wolf spider may even cause mild necrosis around the site of bite.
The good news is, wolf spider bites don’t produce any long-term or systemic effects in most cases.
Since they don’t build webs, they generally won’t be a nuisance in the house as long as there is no infestation. Again, they tend to keep to themselves, as they don’t like to bother or be bothered by people.
In the garden, they will eat lots of pest insects and will rarely, if ever, attack people. They will run away to the far corners of your garden until you leave, then begin roaming around once more looking for insects to eat.
Wolf spiders are usually easy to identify by their large size, hairy bodies, eight eyes, and hunting style. They are good to have around in your yard and garden, so if you see a wolf spider scurrying back into hiding after you disturbed it, your best bet is to leave it alone and not worry about it.