Holmes Lawn & Pest Blog

The Wolf Spider

What Does a Wolf Spider Look LIke

This spider is named for its method of hunting prey via stalking and attacking, similar to a wolf. Wolf spiders are solitary creatures that prefer to dwell and hunt away from other spiders. They are known to camouflage with decaying plant and tree matter, as well as effectively hiding underneath dirt and rocks on the ground. Wolf spiders are commonly spotted in Utah, especially in the fall months. While their venom is not considered overly dangerous to humans, there can be instances of more serious situations developing after a bite when the wound is not properly cared for and becomes infected. 

Appearance

With hairy bodies and large fangs, wolf spiders are commonly misidentified as tarantulas. The markings on wolf spiders are also similar to those of certain grass spiders. Luckily, there are some attributes of wolf spiders that make them easier to identify. For example, wolf spiders found in Utah typically grow up to 35 millimeters long, making them bigger than grass spiders but smaller than tarantulas. 

 

Typically, the colors of wolf spiders range from brown to gray, with dark markings across their cephalothorax, abdomen, and legs. The underside of many wolf spiders is solid black, but colors can vary depending on the species, and markings of red and yellow are even present on some wolf spiders. The wolf spider most commonly seen in Utah has two thick bands of dark color running the length of its cephalothorax, with smaller dark markings on the rest of its body. 

 

The most unique characteristic of the wolf spider, and the easiest way to differentiate it from other spiders, is the eyes. The wolf spider has eight eyes that are constructed in a unique formation. At the top of the cephalothorax (on top of the “head” area) are two upward-facing eyes. Beneath those eyes are two large and prominent forward-facing eyes, which create a more typical-looking “face” when viewing the creature from the front. Beneath those two eyes is a final row of four smaller eyes in a straight line. 

 

The fangs of the wolf spider are large for its size, which is the main reason people misidentify it as a tarantula. The fangs are directly under the last row of the animal’s eyes. Pedipalps are located on both sides of the fangs, and they are roughly ¼ the size of the spider’s legs.

Life Cycle

As solitary creatures, male wolf spiders often have to travel longer distances or search for longer amounts of time when looking for a mate. Once a mate is found, the courtship process is complex and dangerous. Wolf spiders have excellent vision, and mating involves visual cues given off by the male, such as enlarged leg segments, different colorations appearing, specific leg and palp movements, and more. As is the case with many spiders, the female may attack and eat the male during the courting if she is not receptive.

 

After mating, the female wolf spider is uniquely maternal when it comes to caring for her eggs. She produces up to 100 eggs that are sheltered in a silken sac. Unlike many other spiders, the mother spider will then carry around the sac on her back until the spiderlings molt and the mother rips open the sac. The spiderlings will then cling to the mothers legs and body, holding onto tiny hairs for safety. They will remain on the mother for a few weeks until they are ready to go out on their own. 

 

Wolf spiders only live for about a year. They spend much of their time hunting and searching for food on the ground-level of their habitat. Males also spend a good portion of their lives looking for mates. Larger males are often not attacked by females during the mating process, and they will go on to find several mates in their short lifetimes.

Habits And Human Interaction

The varying species of wolf spiders can be found almost everywhere in the world, excluding areas near the cold geographic poles. They are adept at acclimating to new environments, and those environments are frequently near humans. These spiders are commonly found in grassland and fields, including urban and suburban yards. Wolf spiders want to be left alone and will attack humans if they feel threatened.

 

As hunters, wolf spiders do not spin webs to catch their prey. They are great hunters, and they will stalk their prey carefully before attacking and injecting their venom into the victim. They are fast and will close distance on their prey quickly. Though they are not true jumpers, they often seem to “pounce” forward when lunging towards their food. 

 

Wolf spiders can climb, but they are most often found on the ground while they look for food and shelter. Their preferred types of prey include ants, beetles, larva, flies, and other smaller bugs; large female wolf spiders have even been known to eat small reptiles and amphibians.   

 

Many species take shelter underground or beneath rocks and logs, while others will simply look for leaf litter to take shelter. Their colors and markings make them great at camouflaging into heavily wooded areas or thick grasslands. Wolf spiders will go anywhere insects go, and that includes inside homes. If it is a bit colder outside, they will wander through doors and windows just to find a warmer home. 

 

Wolf spiders are generally considered not medically significant, and some even consider their presence to be beneficial. These spiders eat many types of bugs that are harmful to lawns and plants, so some people embrace the presence of a wolf spider in their yards. However, the bite of a wolf spider is relatively painful due to their large fangs, and infections and allergic reactions have been reported. Though the bite is not lethal, you should proceed with caution if you spot a wolf spider on your property, and seek medical attention if a bite occurs. 

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