Wolf Spiders: Behavior, Bites, and Other Facts

Wolf spiders are a family of mostly large, hairy, and athletic arachnids. Rather than snare their prey in webs, wolf spiders hunt it much like a wolf, although these spiders hunt alone, not in packs.

There are nearly 2,400 species of wolf spiders in 125 genera, according to the Integrated taxonomic information system (IT’S). They live all over the world and are found all over the United States. Wolf spiders are especially common in grasslands and grasslands, but they also live in mountains, deserts, rainforests and wetlands — anywhere they can find insects to eat, according to the University of Michigan. BioKids website.

What do wolf spiders look like?

Wolf spiders are usually brown, gray, black or tan, with dark markings – most often stripes, depending on the Missouri Department of Conservation. Their coloration is effective camouflage, helping them catch prey and hide from predators. Wolf spiders vary in size, and their body length ranges from about a quarter inch (0.6 centimeters) to over an inch (3 cm) long, not including their legs. The Desertas wolf spider (Hogna ingens) from Deserta Grande Island in the Atlantic Ocean is one of the largest wolf spiders and has a leg span of 4.7 inches (12 cm), according to the Bristol Zoological Society In England. Female wolf spiders are generally larger than males.

Taxonomy of wolf spiders

Kingdom: animal

Phylum: Arthropods

To classify: Arachnid

Ordered: Araneae

Family: Lycosids

Source: ITIS

Wolf spiders have a “distinctive eye arrangement, where the front or anterior row is made up of four small eyes of roughly the same size arranged in an almost straight row,” said Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal, an arachnologist at the University of the West Indies. in Trinity. (Sewlal spoke with Live Science in 2014 and died in 2020.) “The rear or posterior row is arranged in a V with the apex next to the anterior row.” Wolf spiders have excellent night vision and mainly hunt in the dark. “They are also quite easily detected at night due to the brightness of their eyes,” Sewlal said.

Related: Hairy ‘Harry Potter’ spider found in mountain burrow

A wolf spider on Shark Bay in Western Australia. (Image credit: Auscape/Contributor via Getty Images)

Are wolf spiders dangerous?

Wolf spiders can bite if threatened, but their venom poses no serious danger to humans. According to Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, wolf spiders bite humans when they are manhandled or trapped on the skin. Bite victims may experience redness or swelling, but no serious medical issues from a wolf spider bite have ever been reported. However, bites from wolf spiders can be very painful, so these creatures should not be picked up by hand, according to the University of Kentucky. Department of entomology Remarks.

Brown wolf spiders can be confused with more poisonous spiders brown recluse spiders, especially in homes. Spiders moving quickly on the ground are more likely to be wolf spiders because brown recluse spiders are very rarely seen out in the open, according to the University of Kentucky. People can tell spiders apart using size and banding patterns; wolf spiders are usually larger and have banding patterns on their legs, which are absent on brown recluse spiders. Anyone who has been bitten by a brown recluse spider should seek emergency medical attention, says MedlinePlusa service of the National Library of Medicine.

Habitat and food

Wolf spiders are solitary animals that usually wander alone at night, stalking their prey. They are “mostly nocturnal and often mistaken for tarantulas,” Sewlal said. These spiders spend most of their time on the ground, but they can climb trees or other objects if they need to. Their habitats include stream edges, gravel, and low vegetation, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. According to Michigan State University Diagnosis of plants and pests.

Wolf spiders feed primarily on ground-dwelling insects, such as crickets and other spiders. Large females can prey on small amphibians and reptiles, according to BioKids. Some species hunt and seize their prey, while others wait for them to pass by and then ambush them. Wolf spiders often jump on their prey, hold it between their legs and turn onto their backs, trapping their prey with their limbs before biting it and injecting their venom.

Wolf spiders use their keen eyesight, camouflage, quick movements, and high sensitivity to vibration to help them avoid predators such as lizards, birds, and hunter wasps. According to Smithsonianhunter wasps paralyze wolf spiders with a sting, bring them back to burrows and lay eggs there so that the larvae that hatch from the eggs have something to eat.

Related: Rare presumed extinct wolf spider appears on UK military base

A female wolf spider with spiders on her abdomen. (Image credit: Ian_Redding via Getty Images)


Female wolf spiders leave scent marks so that males can find them to mate with. When a male locates a female, he performs a courtship ritual in which the male signals to the female by waving his legs and pedipalps (short sensory appendages near their mouth), according to the australian museum In Sydney. After mating, female wolf spiders lay several dozen or more eggs and wrap them in silk, creating an egg sac.

“Female wolf spiders carry their egg sacs attached to her spinnerets [at the tip of their abdomens where silk is produced]said Sewlal. Mothers are known to exhibit aggressive behavior when carrying their egg sacs. They sometimes need to drop their egg sacs to escape predators more easily. If this happens, the females will search furiously for them and might even pick up another wolf spider’s abandoned egg sac to tend to. A 2021 study published in the journal Ethology found that Pardosa milvina, a common North American wolf spider, can recognize its own egg sacs and is less likely to pick those of unrelated spiders when given the choice. However, the spiders in the study cared for unrelated eggs as if they were their own when they picked them up.

The maternal behavior of wolf spiders does not stop at egg sacs. “After hatching, the spiders climb onto their mother’s back and she carries them for several days,” Sewlal said. After that, the spiders leave their mother and go off on their own. Male wolf spiders typically live a year or less, while females can live for several years.

Related: Evil wolf spiders engage in a threesome to avoid cannibalism

Additional Resources

To see a visual and size comparison of wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders, check out this chart from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which highlights the differences between the two types of spiders, as well as other species that can be confused with brown recluse spiders. To learn more about the critically endangered Desertas wolf spiders and what the Bristol Zoological Society and other groups are doing to save them, check out the organization’s website. Desertas Wolf Spider Conservation Strategy. To see how wolf spiders move, watch this short YouTube video from the Billings Gazettea Montana-based newspaper.


Berry, AD & Rypstra, AL “Recognition and promotion of the egg sac in the wolf spider Pardosa milvina (araneae: lycosidae) and its effects on spider survival”, Ethology, Volume 127, January 29, 2021. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/eth.13134

BioKids, Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, “Lycosidae”, 2001. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lycosidae/

Bristol Zoological Society, “Desert Wolf Spider.” https://bristolzoo.org.uk/save-wildlife/conservation-and-research/desertas-wolf-spider-project

Blake Newton, University of Kentucky Department of Entomology, “Wolf Spiders,” updated January 30, 2008. https://www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/spiders/wolf/wolf.htm

College of Agricultural Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, “Wolf Spiders,” updated December 10, 2018. https://extension.psu.edu/wolf-spiders

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), “Lycosidae Sundevall, 1833”, revised 2019. https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=847731#null

Medline Plus, National Library of Medicine, “Brown Recluse Spider,” updated February 18, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002859.htm

Missouri Department of Conservation, “Wolf Spiders.” https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/wolf-spiders

Plant & Pest Diagnostics, Michigan State University, “Wolf Spider”, May 19, 2020. https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/wolf-spider

Smithsonian, “Wolf Spider,” December 5, 2014. https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/snapshot/wolf-spider

The Australian Museum, “Wolf Spiders,” updated August 23, 2021. https://australian.museum/learn/animals/spiders/wolf-spiders/

This article was originally published on December 25, 2014. It was updated on March 7, 2022 by Live Science Editor Patrick Pester.

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