Wolf Spiders

Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name

Family Lycosidae

Approximately 200 known species belong to the Family Lycosidae in the U.S. and Canada. These wolf spiders are particularly abundant in prairie areas but can be located in a variety of habitats.

Appearance / Identification

Wolf Spider Illustration
Wolf Spider Illustration

What Does a Wolf Spider Look Like?
Wolf spiders are hairy arachnids that can grow up to 35 mm in body length. Their bodies are commonly patterned in black, gray and brown hues. Quick moving and relatively large in size, wolf spiders often inspire fear when they are found within human dwellings. Wolf spiders are also sometimes confused for tarantulas, nursery web and fishing spiders, and brown recluse spiders.

It can be difficult to differentiate between wolf spiders and the many species that resemble them. Most spiders have in common two-segmented bodies, eight legs and fang-like mouthparts known as chelicerae. However, wolf spiders do have shorter legs than web-building spiders and appear more robust than other species.

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse
It may help to observe the movements of the spider in question. Named for their swift motion, particularly while attacking prey, the wolf spider can sometimes be seen scurrying across open surfaces. The brown recluse, on the other hand, tends to hide in dark, unvisited places and is rarely seen in the open. Recluses also have six eyes arranged in pairs combined with a violin marking on their cephalothoraxes. Wolf spiders do not have these combined characters.

Anatomy

All spiders have in common a two-segmented body, eight legs, spinnerets and the absence of chewing mouthparts or wings. The eight noncompound eyes of the wolf spider are arranged with one lower row of four small eyes, two larger eyes and two more small eyes on top of the head.

Chelicerae, or jaws, are used to hold prey, inject venom and eat. Two sharp, horizontal fangs are present at the extreme bottom of these jaws. Also present near the jaw are the palps, which serve as sensory structures and as sperm storage in the male wolf spider.

The circulatory system of the wolf spider is open, meaning the blood isn’t confined and delivered inside of a closed system, and contains hemolymph, a respiratory protein similar in function to hemoglobin. Hemolymph is pumped through the heart and bathes the internal organs and tissues.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

Wolf spider habitats range from woodlands and dry, inland shrub lands to wet, coastal forests and alpine meadows. Some wolf spider species prefer to dwell in suburban gardens. Coastal sand dunes, mountain herb fields or riverbank gravel beds are also home to many wolf spider species. Because wolf spiderlings travel great distances, the habitat of a single species can span a large region. There are several wolf spiders found in the west that are most commonly brown in color, although gray and black specimens have also been documented. Colored markings may appear along their bodies. Some western wolf spiders can be found indoors, while others are specific to wet outdoor areas like riverbanks.

Burrows in the Ground
Wolf spiders do not spin webs and reside instead within burrows. These burrows may be open or sealed with silken doors. In rainy seasons, wolf spiders plug their burrows with pebbles and build turrets to deflect floodwater. Twigs may also be placed at the top of the burrow.

In the Home
At the onset of the fall season, wolf spiders seek warmer habitats and have been known to enter homes, where they are found in windows, doors, garages, basements and houseplants.

The Carolina wolf spider is the largest documented wolf spider in the United States. Its color matches its habitat, allowing for camouflage. Other wolf spider species may inhabit alpine meadows, coastal forests, dry shrub lands and woodlands. Most species are burrowers that live underground, although some specimens can be seen traveling above ground in leaf litter, on lawns and in gardens. Most wolf spiders are also nocturnal, although some do hunt in the morning. A wolf spider’s diet typically consists of insects and other small spiders.

Life Cycle / Reproduction

Mating for wolf spiders is a dangerous affair because males are sometimes killed and consumed by females following mating. However, males often survive to mate again. Wolf spiders exhibit unique parental care behaviors. Female wolf spiders often carry their egg sacs with them. When eggs hatch, the immature spiders remain with the female for a couple of weeks before dispersing.

Eggs
After mating, the female wolf spider seeks an isolated, covered location within which to lay her eggs. Females lay approximately 100 or more eggs, which they encase in a silk sac. Wolf spiders are protective of their eggs and, unlike other spider species, carry these spherical sacs on their spinnerets.

When eggs are ready to hatch, the female wolf spider rips the egg sac open in order to release her spiderlings. Spiderlings then swarm the female’s body and legs, where they remain for protection. They stay with the female for a couple of weeks, at which point wolf spiderlings disperse. They are then ready to begin fending for themselves.

Signs of a Wolf Spider Infestation

All spiders have the potential to come indoors. Wolf spiders often scurry under gaps below doors, and jumping spiders accidentally may be carried in on people. Sightings of wolf spiders are the main sign of their activity. If wolf spiders are found invading a structure it is best to contact a local pest management agency.

More Information

Although their reputation would lead one to believe otherwise, the bite of the wolf spider is not a significant medical threat to the average adult. Wolf spiders typically do not bite unless threatened or provoked. In most cases the wolf spider will first retreat or rear up on its legs, exposing its large fangs.

Wolf spiders are common throughout the United States, especially Missouri, Texas, and California. In California, they are sometimes referred to as California wolf spiders.The Kauai cave wolf spider (Adelocosa anops) inhabits the caves of Hawaii’s Kauai Island. These spiders are eyeless and reddish-brown in color. Specimens can measure up to 20 mm in length.

Other Types Of Wolf Spiders

Carolina Wolf Spiders

Texas Wolf Spiders