Homeowner’s Guide To Wolf Spiders
Wolf spiders can give quite a fright to homeowners across the U.S., but are they friend or foe? Read on for the answer.
You know the feeling. You’re sweeping your basement or cleaning your garage and a big spider scurries out from under your broom. What is it? Do you need to do anything except jump and maybe give a little shriek?
If it’s a wolf spider, there’s no reason for concern. That’s according to Michael Thome, an associate certified entomologist with Western Exterminator.
“They’re scary looking, but they really won’t bother you unless you bother them,” he says.
How do you know if you saw a wolf spider and not something else?
What Are Wolf Spiders?
Wolf spiders are generally large and fast creatures that ambush and chase down their prey rather than build a web to catch them. They belong to a family of spiders called Lycosidae; Lycos means “wolf” in Greek. More than 2,400 species of wolf spiders have been identified.
They got their name because, like wolves, they’re fast, agile hunters. But unlike wolves, Thome says, wolf spiders are solitary and do not hunt in packs.
Wolf spiders are also highly maternal. Female wolf spiders attach their egg sac to their abdomen and carry it around during incubation. Once the hatched “spiderlings” emerge, they climb up onto the mother’s back for several days until they’re old enough to hunt on their own.
And we’re not talking just a few baby spiders. Thome says one mother could care for more than a hundred spiderlings this way. She may even carry an abandoned wolf spider’s egg sac and treat it like her own.
What Do Wolf Spiders Look Like?
Wolf spiders are usually brown, black or gray with black or brown stripes. Depending on the habitat, they also can be orange or tan. They’re also hairy, leading some people to confuse them with tarantulas.
They’re not as big as tarantulas, though. Most wolf spiders measure a quarter-inch to just over one inch long, not including the legs. The largest wolf spider in the U.S. is the Carolina wolf spider, Hogna carolinensis, which despite its name can be found all over the country.
Wolf spiders have excellent eyesight, which is why they’re such good hunters. They have three rows of eyes — four small eyes on the bottom row, two giant eyes in the middle, and two medium-sized ones on the top and a little to the side.
The brown recluse is also often confused with the wolf spider, but each has distinct characteristics. The brown recluse, or “fiddleback,” can have a violin-shaped mark on its cephalothorax (the front part of the body). But brown recluses are more easily distinguished from wolf spiders by the number of eyes. They have six instead of eight.
What Do Wolf Spiders Eat?
Wolf spiders mainly eat ground-dwelling insects and other spiders. They tend to hunt at night, either leaving their burrow or hiding place and stalking their prey or lying in wait and pouncing when an unsuspecting insect walks by. Some wolf spiders can take on insects larger than they are, and even small amphibians.
Do Wolf Spiders Bite?
Yes, but only if threatened or trapped against the skin. Wolf spider venom isn’t poisonous to humans. The bite can be painful, but Thome says “no serious medical concerns arise from their bite.”
Luckily, wolf spiders prefer a solitary existence and aren’t aggressive toward humans.
Where Do Wolf Spiders Live?
Wolf spiders are found worldwide. They like grassy areas like meadows and fields, but with so many species in so many places, their habitat can vary. There’s even an eyeless species that lives in caves in Hawaii. They’ll live where they can find a consistent food source.
You may see wolf spider burrows in your yard, or while walking through a grassy field. Look for a spider-sized hole in the ground at the entrance. Other species live above ground their entire lives. Sheds, woodpiles and piles of leaves can also provide attractive habitat for wolf spiders.
Wolf spiders prefer to be outside, Thome says, even if you see them occasionally in your basement or crawl space.
Are Wolf Spiders Dangerous or Beneficial?
Beneficial. Wolf spiders eat ground-dwelling insects and other spiders, including crop pests. They aren’t dangerous to humans but can be a little scary.
Before you squash one, remember: A wolf spider could be carrying hundreds of her spiderlings, and that’s a situation best avoided.
How To Get Rid of Wolf Spiders
Controlling wolf spiders outside your home isn’t necessary, Thome says.
If you see them inside your house, put down glue traps to catch them. They don’t generally breed indoors, so if you see one in your basement, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an infestation.
If you’re up to it, trap them in a jar and deposit them outside.
How To Prevent Wolf Spiders
Thome says sealing gaps and cracks in your exterior walls is the best way to keep them out of your house. Keeping leaf litter swept and not piled up against your foundation will help, too.
Since they hunt and eat insects, any place that might harbor a food source next to your home should be kept clean and decluttered, so wolf spiders won’t want to take up residence there.
If you see wolf spiders outside, it’s best to leave them alone. If you’re uncomfortable seeing them indoors, a pest control expert can spray the exterior of your house to discourage them and inspect for likely means of entry.