How to Identify the Wolf Spider

The wolf spider is a perfectly camouflaged, hairy, and wickedly fast pursuer of its prey. Just like the wolf it is named after. However, as scary as they look, the wolf spider does not pack as dangerous a bite as once believed.

Let’s take a close-up look at the wolf spider, learn how to identify it, and discover some interesting facts about how it manages to live just about everywhere in the world.

Related: How to identify the black widow spider.

Related: How to identify the Brazilian wandering spider.

Wolf spider
Adult Female Wolf Spider of the Family Lycosidae. Photo credit: R. Souza

Wolf spider: Description.

Currently, there are 128 genera and over 2,800 species of wolf spiders. Amongst all those species, the body size of individual wolf spiders ranges from 1/25 to 1.5 inches.

For the record: The largest wolf spider species is the Hogna ingens, the Deserta Grande wolf spider. The female of this critically endangered spider has a leg span of nearly 5 inches.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the wolf spider is its face. This spider has three rows of eyes, four small ones on the bottom, two medium-sized ones on the top, and two much larger eyes in the middle. Wolf spiders are known to have excellent vision for spotting and tracking prey.

Wolf spider eyes have reflective tissue like canids such as wolves and coyotes. This tissue, tapetum lucidum reflects visible light back through the retina and increases the light available to the photoreceptors—significantly increasing the wolf spider’s night vision.

And just like wolves and coyotes, you can use a flashlight at night to locate wolf spiders by scanning an area and spotting the reflected “glow” from the light’s beam.

The wolf spider has slightly inferior night vision to the jumping spider, which in turn is bested by the huntsman spider.

The wolf spider also has an impressive set of fangs.

Related: Tarantula bites.

Related: Tarantulas: Appearance, diet, and mating.

Wolf spider
Adult Female Wolf Spider of the Family Lycosidae. Photo credit: R. Souza

Are bites from wolf spiders dangerous?

Like the hobo spider, the wolf spider was thought to have had a dangerous bite for many years. However, the venom of a wolf spider is not a serious medical problem for most people. Indeed, these spiders have bites that produce only slight redness and swelling.

However, the lack of a venomous bite should not lead you to believe they are safe to pick up or mishandle. The wolf spider will bite if threatened, and that bite is painful enough to serve as a reminder to leave future wolf spiders alone.

Now, if you are reading this because a brown spider bit you, I have one caution. While a simple wash and treat with first aid might be all you need for a wolf spider bite, that does not mean it was the spider that bit you.

If you cannot positively identify that the bite came from a wolf spider, recover the (dead) spider and consult with a doctor. The doctor can use the dead spider (please don’t use enough for killing for the corpse to be classified as “remains unviewable”) to identify the spider for you.

Why speak with a doctor and bring the dead spider? A giant brown recluse spider looks a hell of a lot like a brown wolf spider. If you are bit by a brown recluse spider, you should get prompt medical treatment.

So, unsure which spider bit you? Then if it can be easily captured or killed, place it in a clear, tightly closed container so it may be identified—and get thee to a physician.

Related: How long do ants live?

Related: What do ants eat?

Wolf spiders
A female wolf spider carrying her spiderlings on her back. Photo credit: Bertolini.

Wolf spider: Mating and reproduction.

With no web or home to call their own, male wolf spiders must detect and follow the scent trails available, willing to mate with females left on the ground behind them. After he finds her, a male wolf spider will court her by waving his legs around and displaying his pedipalps.

How high the male signaling frequency is may determine his acceptance by the female wolf spider. In this study, it was noted:

“Males that eventually mate may have higher rates of signaling behaviors than those that do not because of higher levels of arousal in response to communication (of receptivity) from the female (Patricelli et al. 2002). 

However, in the case of this wolf spider species, communication between male and female before mating is not prolonged; receptive females perform display behaviors that usually lead immediately to copulation, while unreceptive females may respond aggressively or not at all (Stratton and Uetz 1981; Scheffer et al. 1996; Persons and Uetz 2005). Thus, we can assume that higher rates of male signaling behaviors influence male mating success.”

If she accepts him, he will leave his sperm in her reproductive opening on her abdomen and then get away as fast as possible (like all spider species, the female is larger than the male) to avoid being eaten.

How female wolf spiders care for their eggs and spiderlings.

After mating, the female will lay a few dozen eggs, wrap them in a woven silk egg sac, and secure them to her spinnerets. These eggs will be attached to her until they hatch unless she must dump them to escape a predator. Unlike other female spiders, she does not just guard them in one location; she carries her eggs everywhere.

From the moment the eggs are secured until her spiderlings grow large enough to leave and live on their own, the female wolf spider will defend them and act aggressively against any threat to them.
Even if she must temporarily leave them behind, she will return and make every effort to recollect and secure her babies and eggs

After the wolf spider eggs hatch, the young spiderlings will crawl onto their mother’s back and spend the next few days being carried around by her. Once they leave her, the males may live for up to 18 months, the females for several years.

Wolf spider diet and habitat.

The wolf spider is a loner, unless mating. It lives almost entirely on the ground and out in the open. And, without a home of its own, it must rely on its vision and speed to take prey and avoid becoming prey.

Wolf spiders prefer areas that are more open (in order to be able to look around). Areas such as farm fields, meadows, stream bed edges, and grasslands.

When you find a male wolf spider in your home, it probably came in looking for a female. If it stays, it will likely take up a spot in your basement, ground level closets, or crawls space.

Wolf spiders are carnivores. The majority of their diet consists of other spiders, insects, insects eggs, ants and grasshoppers. All prey are injected with a venom that breaks the victims bodies down into a fluid the spiders suck out.

Taxonomic hierarchy of the wolf spider.

Taxonomic hierarchy of the wolf spider.

All links in open in a separate tab.

Information provided by Integrated Taxonomic Information System – Report

 KingdomAnimalia  – Animal, animaux, animals 
             PhylumArthropoda  – Artrópode, arthropodes, arthropods 
                SubphylumChelicerata  – cheliceriformes, quelicerado, queliceriforme 
                      SubclassArachnida  – araignées, aracnídeo, arachnids, arácnidos 
                         OrderAraneae  – spiders, aranhas, araignées, arañas 
                            FamilyLycosidae Sundevall, 1833 – wolf spiders 
  Direct Children: 
                               GenusAcantholycosa Dahl, 1908 
                               GenusAdelocosa Gertsch, 1973 
                               GenusAgalenocosa Mello-Leitão, 1944 
                               GenusAglaoctenus Tullgren, 1905 
                               GenusAlgidus Simon, 1898 
                               GenusAllocosa Banks, 1900 
                               GenusAllotrochosina Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusAlopecosa Simon, 1885 
                               GenusAmblyothele Simon, 1910 
                               GenusAnomalomma Simon, 1890 
                               GenusAnomalosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusAnoteropsis L. Koch, 1878 
                               GenusArctosa C. L. Koch, 1847 
                               GenusArctosippa Roewer, 1955 
                               GenusArctosomma Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusArtoria Thorell, 1877 
                               GenusArtoriellula Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusArtoriopsis Framenau, 2007 
                               GenusAulonia C. L. Koch, 1847 
                               GenusAuloniella Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusBirabenia Mello-Leitão, 1941 
                               GenusBogdocosa Ponomarev & Belosludtsev, 2008 
                               GenusBrevilabus Strand, 1908 
                               GenusBristowiella Saaristo, 1980 
                               GenusCamptocosa Dondale, Jiménez & Nieto, 2005 
                               GenusCaporiaccosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusCaspicosa Ponomarev, 2007 
                               GenusCostacosa Framenau & Leung, 2013 
                               GenusCrocodilosa Caporiacco, 1947 
                               GenusCynosa Caporiacco, 1933 
                               GenusDejerosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusDeliriosa Kovblyuk, 2009 
                               GenusDiahogna Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusDiapontia Keyserling, 1876 
                               GenusDingosa Roewer, 1955 
                               GenusDolocosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusDonacosa Alderweireldt & Jocqué, 1991 
                               GenusDorjulopirata Buchar, 1997 
                               GenusDraposa Kronestedt, 2010 
                               GenusDzhungarocosa Fomichev & Marusik, 2017 
                               GenusEdenticosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusEvippa Simon, 1882 
                               GenusEvippomma Roewer, 1959 
                               GenusFoveosa Russell-Smith, Alderweireldt & Jocqué, 2007 
                               GenusGeolycosa Montgomery, 1904 – burrowing wolf spiders 
                               GenusGladicosa Brady, 1987 
                               GenusGnatholycosa Mello-Leitão, 1940 
                               GenusGulocosa Marusik, Omelko & Koponen, 2015 
                               GenusHalocosa Azarkina & Trilikauskas, 2019 
                               GenusHesperocosa Gertsch & Wallace, 1937 
                               GenusHippasa Simon, 1885 
                               GenusHippasella Mello-Leitão, 1944 
                               GenusHoggicosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusHogna Simon, 1885 
                               GenusHognoides Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusHyaenosa Caporiacco, 1940 
                               GenusHygrolycosa Dahl, 1908 
                               GenusKangarosa Framenau, 2010 
                               GenusKatableps Jocqué, Russell-Smith & Alderweireldt, 2011 
                               GenusKnoelle Framenau, 2006 
                               GenusLobizon Piacentini & Grismado, 2009 
                               GenusLoculla Simon, 1910 
                               GenusLycosa Latreille, 1804 
                               GenusLycosella Thorell, 1890 
                               GenusLysania Thorell, 1890 
                               GenusMainosa Framenau, 2006 
                               GenusMalimbosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusMargonia Hippa & Lehtinen, 1983 
                               GenusMegarctosa Caporiacco, 1948 
                               GenusMelecosa Marusik, Omelko & Koponen, 2015 
                               GenusMelocosa Gertsch, 1937 
                               GenusMinicosa Alderweireldt & Jocqué, 2007 
                               GenusMolitorosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusMongolicosa Marusik, Azarkina & Koponen, 2004 
                               GenusMustelicosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusNavira Piacentini & Grismado, 2009 
                               GenusNotocosa Vink, 2002 
                               GenusNukuhiva Berland, 1935 
                               GenusOculicosa Zyuzin, 1993 
                               GenusOcyale Audouin, 1826 
                               GenusOrinocosa Chamberlin, 1916 
                               GenusOvia Sankaran, Malamel & Sebastian, 2017 
                               GenusParatrochosina Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusPardosa C. L. Koch, 1847 – thinlegged wolf spiders 
                               GenusPardosella Caporiacco, 1939 
                               GenusPassiena Thorell, 1890 
                               GenusPavocosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusPhonophilus Ehrenberg, 1831 
                               GenusPirata Sundevall, 1833 – pirate wolf spiders 
                               GenusPiratula Sundevall, 1833 
                               GenusPortacosa Framenau, 2017 
                               GenusProevippa Purcell, 1903 
                               GenusProlycosides Mello-Leitão, 1942 
                               GenusPseudevippa Simon, 1910 
                               GenusPterartoria Purcell, 1903 
                               GenusPyrenecosa Marusik, Azarkina & Koponen, 2004 
                               GenusRabidosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusSatta Lehtinen & Hippa, 1979 
                               GenusSchizocosa Chamberlin, 1904 
                               GenusShapna Hippa & Lehtinen, 1983 
                               GenusSibirocosa Marusik, Azarkina & Koponen, 2004 
                               GenusSosippus Simon, 1888 
                               GenusSyroloma Simon, 1900 
                               GenusTapetosa Framenau, 2009 
                               GenusTasmanicosa Roewer, 1959 
                               GenusTetralycosa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusTigrosa Brady, 2012 
                               GenusTrabea Simon, 1876 
                               GenusTrabeops Roewer, 1959 
                               GenusTrebacosa Dondale & Redner, 1981 
                               GenusTricassa Simon, 1910 
                               GenusTrochosa C. L. Koch, 1847 
                               GenusTrochosippa Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusTuberculosa Framenau & Yoo, 2006 
                               GenusVaracosa Chamberlin & Ivie, 1942 
                               GenusVenator Hogg, 1900 
                               GenusVenatrix Roewer, 1960 
                               GenusVenonia Thorell, 1894 
                               GenusVesubia Simon, 1909 
                               GenusWadicosa Zyuzin, 1985 
                               GenusXerolycosa Dahl, 1908 
                               GenusZantheres Thorell, 1887 
                               GenusZenonina Simon, 1898 
                               GenusZoica Simon, 1898 
                               GenusZyuzicosa Logunov, 2010 

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Dennis V. Gilmore Jr.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr. is a former Marine Sergeant and the author of several books, including two on night hunting coyotes and red and gray fox. He has written several hundred articles on predator hunting for

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