Wolf Spiders: Are They Dangerous and How To Get Rid Of Them

Wolf spiders are very common spiders and found in most parts of the world. In fact, there are about 3000 species of them worldwide with over 200 of these species living in North America. [source]

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For this reason, it is common to encounter them. Is this a cause for concern? Are wolf spiders dangerous? How can you get rid of them, and should you? In this article, we will explore these questions and more.

How To Identify A Wolf Spider – What Do They Look Like?

The Australasian Arachnological Society, shares a number of characteristics to clearly identify wolf spiders.

  • A wolf spider’s eyes are arranged in three rows. The lowest row has four small eyes, with the above two rows each having two larger eyes.
  • Female wolf spiders carry their egg sac on their back.
  • The spiders are 0.5 to 1 inches long.
  • The wolf spiders are famous for being able to camouflage themselves. Their color changes to match their environment, in most cases a mix of gray and brown or black and brown.
  • Wolf spiders live in and around the house, gardens, open grass fields, under wooden logs and places with lots of insects.

These spiders vary somewhat in appearance from one location to another because there are so many different types within one family. Wolf spiders all belong to the spider family known as Lycosidae, but the various species are known by many names, including:

  • Brush-legged wolf
  • Two-lined wolf
  • Hunting spider
  • Ground spider
  • Dotted wolf
  • Rabid wolf
  • Stone wolf
  • Shore wolf

These can be very large spiders, ranging in size from half an inch to two inches long. Their marking varies from region to region, but most are striped lengthwise in shades of tan, yellow, black and deep orange.

The wolf spider, like all spiders, belongs to class arachnida under arthropoda category. It has eight legs, and its body is divided into two parts: [source]

  1. The celphalothorax is made up of the head and the thorax.
  2. The remainder of the body is the abdomen, which is oval shaped.

Wolf spiders can see very well because they have eight eyes. The eyes are arranged in a row of four small, dark eyes in the front, two large, reflective eyes just above those and two medium eyes on top of the head. If you shine a flashlight beam at a wolf spider in the dark, the two large eyes will reflect with a silvery glow.

Their mouths come equipped with long fangs (chelicerae) which they use to subdue the insects and small mammals they eat. They have long, tapered legs and hairy feet. This is a winning combination that gives them excellent speed and traction.

They can swim and climb, but they do not usually do so. Typically wolf spiders are ground dwellers and hunt their prey on dry land.

Facts About The Wolf Spider

Do They Hunt In Packs?

These spiders live solitary lives, and they don’t howl, so you may wonder why they are referred to as “wolf.” The reason is that the Greek genus name is “Lycos”, meaning wolf. This is a descriptive name because, like wolves, these spiders are hunters. [source]

They do not spin a web. Instead, they actively seek out and “bring down” their prey. When they locate prey, they chase it down, catch it and use their fangs to deliver a dose of paralyzing venom. In addition to paralyzing insect prey, this venom also causes the innards of the hapless creatures to dissolve so that the spider can suck them out.

Do Wolf Spiders Bite People?

Although the wolf spider’s fangs are easy to see and look a bit scary, you needn’t worry. Wolf spiders do not attack humans, and their venom is fairly harmless to large animals and people says the Wolf Spider Organization.

If you find yourself bitten by a wolf spider, it is probably your fault. They typically run and hide when they see a human or large animal. They do not bite attack people, except in self-defense. You would need to go out of your way to hold a wolf spider next to your skin and make it feel trapped or threatened.

If you happen to sit on one, or if you are foolish enough to hold one in your hand and squeeze it you may be bitten. If this happens, you can expect pain, redness, swelling, and itching similar to a wasp sting.

How To Identify Bite Symptoms?

After being bitten, one may observe some skin tearing. Often there will be redness and swelling in the area of the bite and the lymph nodes. Any pain or discomfort may remain for up to 10 days. On occasion, the skin around the bite may darken or turn black.

What Is The Proper First Aid For Wolf Spider Bites?

Once bitten, proper first aid is necessary to avoid further complications and lessen discomfort.

5 Steps for Treatment

  1. Like all wounds, clean the area and treat it with ice and/or a cool baking soda compress. Apply an antibiotic ointment as well.
  2. Place a cold towel over the bite area to minimize pain and swelling, as well as to prevent the venom from spreading.
  3. Monitor the progress of symptoms and note any complications. Taking an antihistamine such as Benedryl may help relieve inflammation.
  4. In case of high fever and/or development of symptoms other than the ones mentioned above, contact your physician as soon as possible.
  5. Take note of any tissue death or lesions on the area around the bite. If so, seek immediate medical attention. If you were particularly sensitive or allergic to bites and stings, you should see a doctor. [source]

Wolf Spider Rescue

Where Do Wolf Spiders Live?

These beneficial spiders typically live outdoors in areas that provide good hunting and good hiding places.

You will usually find these non-aggressive, valuable natural predators hiding out in scattered leaves, in brush piles, under logs, in cultivated fields and gardens and in other areas where they will have good luck finding crickets, grasshoppers, beetles and other insect pests to eat.

Some varieties are territorial. They dig burrows to keep their eggs safe, and they guard their “turf” against incursion by other wolf spiders. Other types roam about freely looking for food.

In addition to helping rid the environment of excessive numbers of pests, wolf spiders also provide food for some types of animals. Turkeys, lizards and mature mice and shrews eat the small spiders before they mature.

Large Wolf Spider

How Do Wolf Spiders Reproduce?

Wolf spiders mate in the autumn. The male adults die before winter, but the females find sheltered areas to over winter. In the springtime, they lay their eggs in a cocoon of silk (aka egg sac) and seal it up.

Unlike web-weaving spiders that spin an egg sac, hang it in a safe place and then go about their business, some types of female wolf spiders dig burrows and store the egg sac there. Others carry their egg sacs on the female abdomen.

At the right time (usually in June or July) a female wolf spider will open the egg sac to release her offspring. The mother spider then waits patiently for the spiderlings to crawl up her legs and situate themselves on her back. If they fall off, she waits and allows them to climb back on.

The babies ride on the mother’s back and nourished by a vestige of the yolks of the eggs from which they have just hatched. This goes on for a few days until the babies shed their skin for the first time. Once this happens, they know it is time to climb off and make their way in the world.

Woman Holding Mother Wolf Spider With Babies

The young spiders look like miniature adult male and adult female, and they will shed their skins several times before attaining their full size. This takes a couple of years. They will not mate during the first autumn of their lives and will only be half their full, mature size during their first winter.

Males live for one year and die after mating and before their second winter. Females can live for several years.

What Kind Of Wolf Spiders Are There?

There are many, many different varieties of wolf spiders. Here are some of the most commonly seen types in the US:

Hogna: There are several different varieties of wolf spider listed in this genus. Two common types found in Kentucky are about an inch long and may be either solid black or a greenish/gray, speckled color. [source]

Others in this genus found in other parts of the US include Hogna carolinensis, which is also usually about an inch long but is a solid brown color with scattered grayish hairs over the body.

Another example is Hogna aspersa, which is usually a little smaller than an inch long and has a brown body with a stripe of yellow hairs near the eyes and darker brown bands on the legs. Females are usually quite a bit darker than males, and the males only have bands on the third and fourth sets of legs. [source]

Rabid Wolf Spider (Rabidosa rabida) is a good looking brown and tan striped creature found in many parts of North America. These spiders also attain a maximum length of about an inch. They are not actually rabid, so have no fear.

Schizocosa is a very small specimen quite common in the state of Kentucky. They are very abundant in woodland areas where they like to hide out in leaf litter and eat small insects.

Wolf spiders look quite a bit like tarantulas, but they are not closely related. There is one type of wolf spider in Italy that is called the Hogna tarantula, but it is not a true tarantula.

It can be hard to know exactly what kind of wolf spider you are looking at. If you are uncertain, you can visit the American Museum of Natural History’s online pictorial key. [source]

Wolf spiders can look quite a bit like spiders that belong to the Pisauridae family. These are also known as “fishing spiders” or “nursery web” spiders. The difference is that wolf spiders typically have shorter legs and are more robust.

Pisauridae are usually slimmer than wolf spiders and tend to live near water. They eat insects, small fish, frogs and the like. They can become quite large but are not dangerous. [source]

How Can You Tell A Wolf Spider From A Venomous Spider?

For the most part, any spider matching the general description of a wolf spider is very likely to be one of the many harmless varieties. One exception is the Hobo Spider, which looks quite a bit like a wolf spider but is somewhat venomous. It is one of only three venomous spiders found in the United States:

  1. Hobo Spider
  2. Brown Recluse
  3. Black Widow

These spiders are web-builders and tend to stay in still, dark spaces. If you see a spider running around out in the open, it is unlikely to be venomous.

How To Tell A Hobo Spider From A Wolf Spider?

Hobo spiders (aka aggressive house spiders) are similar in shape to wolf spiders, but they are marked differently and behave differently. Hobo spiders have yellow, chevron-shaped markings on a brown background. Their legs are longer than a wolf spider, and the legs are a solid yellow color with no markings. [source]

Hobo Spider

Hobo Spider image: Wikimedia CC

Hobo spiders do not tend to hang out in loose leaves or other open, outdoor areas. Instead, they stay close to walls and create disorganized webs in cracks between bricks, rocks and other hard surfaces. Indoors, they will hide and make webs between boxes or in crevices in walls. They don’t range about looking for prey as a wolf spider does.

There is some debate as to whether or not the Hobo spider is actually venomous. This spider is not a US native. It comes from Western Europe where it is not considered at all dangerous.

This spider is quite defensive, and bites are fairly common. Some people have experienced relatively serious inflammation and swelling in response to the bite of a Hobo spider.

Just keep in mind that a wolf spider is unlikely to aggress. If you encounter a spider, and it aggresses, it is likely to be a Hobo spider. If you are bitten by a spider that you suspect is a Hobo spider, you should seek medical attention.

How To Tell A Brown Recluse From A Wolf Spider?

The Brown Recluse looks very different from wolf spiders. They are smaller in body and have a violin-shaped marking on the back. These are very poisonous spiders, and they are reclusive.

They are disorganized web-weavers, and they can be found hiding in dark, usually damp spaces where they stay put waiting for insects to blunder by. They are likely to be found under plank steps and in the crawlspace of man-made structures.

Brown Recluse spider

Brown Recluse spider – Image Wikimedia CDC

Brown recluse do not run around or hunt. If you see a spider walking or running around outdoors or on the floor, it is not likely to be a brown recluse. When separated from their nests, they are not quick or agile. They are also quite a bit smaller than typical wolf spiders.

The brown recluse is not aggressive, and encounters with it are rare. The bite can be painful and very severe with serious symptoms including necrosis (rotting away) of the skin. If bitten by a brown recluse, see your doctor or go to the emergency room right away.

How To Tell A Black Widow From A Wolf Spider?

Black widows are very different in appearance from wolf spiders. They are always black with a bright red, hour-glass shaped marking on the abdomen. The head portion of a black widow is very small, and the abdomen portion is usually quite swollen-looking.

black widow spider

Black Widow spider outdoors on a leaf spinning web

Similar to brown recluse, black widows tend to hide in dark, sheltered places. They are disorganized web weavers, and they stay in place. They do not wander about looking for food.

Because of the black widow’s secretive nature, bites are very rare; however, a black widow bite carries the most potential for danger or even death. Black widow venom contains a neurotoxin that can interfere with the workings of your central nervous system. If a black widow bites you, call 9/11 or go straight to the ER.

Avoid Being Bitten

To avoid being bitten by Hobo spiders, brown recluse spider or black widow spiders take care never to reach into dark spaces without first looking. Also, be careful to shake out your clothes and shoes before putting them on. Brown recluse are notorious for hiding in shoes.

Remember Wolf Spiders Do Not Have Webs

Because wolf spiders hunt at night, they typically rest during the day. Some wolf spiders dig burrows, and some hide between rocks or in brush piles and wood piles. Unlike venomous, web-building spiders, they do not build disorganized webs.

If you come across a wolf spider resting during the day, you can tell it apart from a venomous spider because it will not have a web and (as compared to Hobo spiders) will not aggress.

Can You Keep Wolf Spiders As Pets?

Wolf spiders actually make interesting pets, and a female can live for several years when well kept. A wolf spider will adapt nicely to captivity if kept it in a large, properly set up terrarium with an appropriate substrate and good hiding places.

Because wolf spiders do hunt their prey, they can be fascinating to watch. You can feed your pet crickets, mealworms, and other insects a couple of times a week – (These can be purchased at a pet store). You can also catch insects to feed your pet. Be careful not to feed any insects that may have been exposed to pesticides.

Some intrepid souls even handle their pet wolf spiders, but this isn’t recommended. If the creature is startled or feels threatened, it can bite; however, a wolf spider bite is not especially dangerous. If bitten, treat the bite as you would a wasp or bee sting, taking your own level of sensitivity into account. [source]

How To Get Rid Of Wolf Spiders?

A more appropriate question would be “Why would you want to get rid of wolf spiders?” These spiders are entirely beneficial. They are not pests. They eat pests.

Wolf spiders can get quite large, but they are not dangerous. They are lone spiders, so you will never have an “infestation” of them. If you see them at all from hiding, you are likely to see one at a time. They do not attack, and you have to trap them and provoke them to get them to bite.

Like any other living thing, you can kill a wolf spider by poison damage or crushing it, but there is absolutely no reason to do so. If you see a wolf spider outdoors, you should leave it alone. If you see one indoors, you should put a cup over it, slide a piece of paper under the cup and carefully carry the spider outdoors and release it.

Florida Wolf Spider | Lycosidae | Relocated

Some sources recommend using glue boards to combat spiders, but this is not a good idea when fighting any pest. Glue boards tend to catch unintended targets, such as birds, butterflies, bees, and so on. Trapped creatures that are not able to get away suffer. Those that do get away do so by pulling or chewing off their own limbs.

Spider Control Involves Insect Control

If you want to keep spiders and all sorts of critters out of your home, be sure to:

  • Keep your window and door screens in good condition.
  • Stack firewood away from the side of your house.
  • Keep clutter and debris at a minimum.
  • Practice good housekeeping.
  • Seal up cracks and crevices
  • Store food properly.

These natural steps will help reduce the number of insects around your home, and will keep those that are present outdoors where wolf spiders can appropriately prey upon them without entering your indoor spaces.

In the course of a lifetime, a wolf spider performs a valuable service to the environment and to humans. All night long, in warm weather, they roam about looking for insects, small reptiles and very small mammals (e.g. baby mice in the nest) to eat.

A healthy population of wolf spiders can be very helpful in ridding your yard, garden and field crops of insect pests.

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