Wolf Spiders are members of the family Lycosidae. They are so named because their method of hunting is to run down their prey like that of a wolf. Wolf spiders are robust, fast and agile hunters that rely on good eyesight to hunt, typically at night. Wolf spiders resemble nursery web spiders (family Pisauridae), however, they carry their egg sacs by attaching them to their spinnerets (instead of by means of their jaws and pedipalps).
There are more than 100 genera and about 2,300 species of wolf spiders; 200 species live in the United States. This family belongs to the order of Araneae, which includes all known spiders.
The Carolina wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis) is the official state spider of South Carolina, which is the only state that has a state spider. Their name comes from the Ancient Greek word λύκος, meaning “wolf”.
The wolf spider is widespread and most species are not endangered. Keep reading on to find out more about these interesting arachnids.
Wolf Spider Characteristics
Wolf Spiders range from about half an inch to 2 inches in length, with males being smaller than females. They are hairy and typically brown, grey or tan in color with distinct dark markings on their back, which is sometimes called a Union Jack impression. The spiders undersides are light grey, cream or black, sometimes salmon pink. Because they depend on camouflage for protection, wolf spiders do not have the flashy appearance of some other kinds of spiders. In general their coloration is appropriate to their favoured habitat.
They also have three tiny claws at the end of their legs, which help them hunt. The sides of their jaws may have a small raised orange spot or ‘boss’, too.
Wolf Spiders have eight eyes arranged in three rows. The bottom row consists of four small eyes, the middle row has two very large eyes and the top row has two medium-sized eyes. Unlike most other arachnids, which are generally blind or have poor vision, wolf spiders have excellent eyesight. Despite this, they cannot move their eyes and rely on their wide vision to see.
Wolf Spiders eyes reflect light well and one way of finding them is to hunt at night using a flashlight strapped to ones forehead so that the light from the light is reflected from their eyes directly back toward its source.
Wolf Spider Lifespan
The wolf spider has a lifespan of around 1 year, although it can rarely life up to 18 months old.
Wolf Spider Location, Habitat and Webs
Wolf spiders live almost everywhere in the world, besides the extreme polar region and the Antarctic. Spiderlings disperse aerially and, consequently, wolf spiders have wide distributions. They can be found in a wide range of habitats both coastal and inland — anywhere they can find insects to eat! These include shrub lands, woodland, wet coastal forest, alpine meadows and suburban gardens.
They typically live on the ground, though some are known to climb partly up trees to catch their prey. The dark, mottled colors on their bodies help them blend in with decaying plant matter while hunting or avoiding predators. Sometimes they dig burrows or make holes under rocks or logs to live in.
Wolf spiders are commonly known as household pests as when the weather starts getting colder, they look for warm places to overwinter in homes. Wolf spiders are commonly found around doors, windows, house plants, basements, garages and in almost all terrestrial habitats. Wolf spiders do not spin a web, instead, they roam at night to hunt for food. Wolf spiders are often confused with the Brown Recluse spider, however, they lack the violin-shaped marking of the recluse.
Wolf Spider Diet
Wolf spiders are insectivores and eat mostly ground-dwelling insects and other spiders, such as grasshoppers, ants and beetles. Less commonly they will eat small reptiles and amphibians. Some species chase down and grab their prey, while others wait for it to walk by and ambush it. Thanks to their excellent night vision, they primarily hunt in the dark. Some wolf spiders hunt in a set territory and return to a specific place to feed, while others wander nomadically with no territory or home.
Wolf spiders often jump on their prey, hold it between their legs and roll over on their backs, trapping their prey with their limbs before biting it. They inject their venom into their prey, which liquefies the prey’s internal organs!
Two wolf spider species are known to be predators of cane toads. Lycosa lapidosa will take small toads and frogs while Lycosa obscuroides has been noted biting and killing a large toad within one hour.
Wolf Spider Behavior
The behavior of wolf spiders varies from species to species.
Known as the sprinters of the spider world, wolf spiders can move very fast when catching prey. While they depend on their good eyesight to hunt, their sense of touch is also acute. Despite having a venomous bite, the wolf spider is shy and is most likely to run away when disturbed.
When threatened by prey, they either use their bite or they also have the remarkable ability to detach a leg! They can later regenerate this leg.
Wolf spiders play an important role in natural population control of insects and are often considered “beneficial bugs” due to their predation of pest species within farms and gardens.
Wolf Spider Reproduction
Mating takes place outside the females burrow at night. Some adult male wolf spiders of smaller-sized species are known to disperse by air in order to find mates. As with spiders in general, males of almost any species can sometimes be found inside homes and buildings as they wander in search for females during the autumn.
The male is attracted by scent markings left by the female, often associated with her drag-line silk. They also use their eyes more than many other types of spiders, use visual cues in mating. Males perform a courtship ritual prior to mating, often involving complex leg and palp signaling to the female.
The female wolf spider constructs an egg sac of white papery silk, shaped like a ball with an obvious circular seam, which she then carries around attached with strong silk to her spinnerets. If the female is separated from the egg sac, she will search furiously for it. Mothers are known to exhibit aggressive behavior when carrying their egg sacs.
When the spiderlings hatch, they are carried around on the females back until they are ready to disperse by ballooning or on the ground. Such a high degree of parental care is relatively unusual among spiders.
Wolf Spider Venom
The wolf spider is not aggressive, however, it will inject venom freely if continually provoked. Symptoms of its venomous bite include swelling, mild pain and itching. Though usually considered harmless to humans, wolf spider bites may be painful.
Wolf Spider Conservation
Most species of wolf spider are considered to have stable populations, although the exact populations are not known. Despite this, some of the species located on small islands such as Desertas and Saint Helena are critically endangered, according the IUCN Red List.
Wolf spiders are preyed on by lizards, birds, and some rodents.
Wolf Spider Fun Fact
Female wolf spiders that have already mated are more likely to eat the next male that tries to mate with them than those that have not mated yet!