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Wolf Spiders Minimize
WHAT IS A WOLF SPIDER?
 
Wolf Spiders are large, hairy spiders which are usually patterned with a mixture of black, gray, and brown.  Wolf spiders, especially large ones, look very similar to spiders in the Pisauridae family (nursery web and fishing spiders), but wolf spiders are usually more robust, with shorter legs.  Wolf spiders have 8 eyes.  As with all spiders, wolf spiders have 8 legs, 2 body parts (cephalothorax and abdomen), and fang-like mouthparts called "chelicerae."
wolfspider1.jpg
Typical Wolf Spider (R. Bessin, 2002)
SIZE: Body length up to about 1"
 
LIFE CYCLE
 
Simple metamorphosis: like all spiders, young wolf spiders hatch from eggs and look like tiny adults when they are born.  A wolf spider sheds its skin several times as it grows to an adult.  Most wolf spiders live for several years.  In many species, female wolf spiders lay dozens of eggs at a time and wrap them in a large ball of silk.  The female will then carry the egg sac on her abdomen until the spiderlings hatch.  Upon hatching, the spiderlings will live on the mother's back for a few weeks until they are large enough to hunt on their own.  Thanks to Greg Abernathy of Lexington, Kentucky, who sent us the picture below.
 
 
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A female wolf spider in the Rabidosa genus
carrying young spiderlings (G. Abernathy, 2003)
 
ECOLOGY
 
Wolf spiders are active hunters that patrol the ground for insects, small spiders, and similar prey.  They do not use webs to capture prey.  Wolf spiders are perhaps the most common Kentucky spiders and are found in all corners of the state and in virtually every habitat.  They live by the thousands in leaf litter and grassy areas.  Some wolf spiders build small burrows and defend a territory, others are free-roaming.  Because they are so numerous, and such voracious predators, wolf spiders are a very important part of any ecosystem in which they occur.  Pictured below is a wolf spider in the Hogna genus feeding on a cockroach (thanks to Michael Richichi for sending us this image).
 
 

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Wolf Spider in the Hogna genus feeding on a cockroach (M. Richichi, 2008)
 
PEST STATUS
 
In most cases, wolf spiders benefit humans by feeding on all sorts of insects, including crop pests.  Wolf spiders are rarely pests, but they sometimes wander into houses, where their large size often frightens homeowners.  Wolf spiders can bite, but their bites are extremely rare and no more dangerous or painful than bee stings.  In fact, bees and wasps are more dangerous than wolf spiders because a wolf spider will never "attack" a person, unlike bees or wasps that will attack to defend a hive.  Wolf spiders will only bite if they are handled.  Wolf spiders that are found indoors have wandered in by mistake and should be collected and released outdoors (if you ever need to collect a wolf spider, "herd" the spider into a container with a stick or a pencil).

CONFUSION: Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse
Because wolf spiders are sometimes seen indoors and because they are usually brown in color, they are often mistaken for brown recluse spiders.  If you see a fast-moving, dark-colored spider running on the floor, it is more likely to be a wolf spider than a brown recluse.  Brown recluses are very secretive and are almost never seen out in the open.  With a little practice, it is easy to tell the difference between wolf spiders and brown recluses.  Take a look at the Case File for Brown Recluses, and our Brown Recluse ENTfact to learn how to identify brown recluse spiders.

Original document: 25 May 2004
Last updated: 30 Jan 2008

Photos courtesy R. Bessin and B. Newton, University of Kentucky
The Kentucky Critter Files are maintained by Blake Newton, Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky.
Contact: blaken@uky.edu

  

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