Wolf Spider: Facts, Appearance, Behavior, and More

Wolf spiders are common arachnids found throughout the world. Here is an in-depth look at these fascinating creatures.

Overview of Wolf Spiders

Wolf spiders belong to the family Lycosidae, a large family of spiders consisting of over 2,300 known species. Some of the most common wolf spider species include the rabid wolf spider, Carolina wolf spider, and the giant wolf spider.

Wolf spiders are robust and agile hunters with excellent eyesight. They do not build webs to catch prey like many other types of spiders. Instead, they rely on stealth and speed to hunt.

Wolf spiders get their name from their tendency to hunt like wolves, chasing down prey. Their diet primarily consists of insects and other invertebrates.

Many wolf spider species exhibit unique parenting behaviors. Females carry egg sacs with them and often carry newly hatched spiderlings on their backs until they are old enough to hunt alone.

Appearance and Anatomy

Wolf spiders have an iconic appearance with hairy brown or grey bodies and long sturdy legs. Their bodies are divided into two main parts, the cephalothorax (head area) and the abdomen.


The cephalothorax of a wolf spider contains the eyes, mouthparts, legs, and stomach.

Wolf spiders have eight eyes arranged in three rows. The front row has four small eyes, the middle row has two very large eyes, and the back row has two medium-sized eyes. This unique eye arrangement gives them excellent eyesight for hunting.

Two powerful fang-like appendages called chelicerae protrude from the front of the cephalothorax. Wolf spiders use their chelicerae to grasp prey and inject venom.


A wolf spider’s abdomen is bag-like and connected to the cephalothorax by a narrow stalk-like pedicel. The heart, book lungs, digestive system, reproductive organs, and silk-producing spinnerets are located in the abdomen.


Wolf spiders have eight jointed legs attached to their cephalothorax. Their first two pairs of legs are longer and more powerful than the rear two pairs.

Their legs are covered in small spikes and hairs that allow them to gain traction on varied surfaces as they hunt. The tips of their legs also have small claws that help them grasp prey.

Behavior and Habits

Hunting and Feeding

Wolf spiders are voracious predators and play an important role in controlling insect populations. They do not spin webs to catch food like orb weaver spiders. Instead, they rely on their excellent eyesight, speed, and agility to chase down prey.

Wolf spiders inject venom into prey to immobilize it before eating. They use their chelicerae to mash up food and liquify internal tissues and organs to ingest.

Small invertebrates like insects, other spiders, millipedes, and sow bugs make up the bulk of a wolf spider’s diet. However, some larger species may also prey on small vertebrates like lizards, mice, and frogs.


During the day, wolf spiders often rest in burrows or crevices. At night, they emerge to actively hunt for food.

Wolf spiders are incredibly fast and agile. They can run up to 2 feet per second. This is equivalent to a human running at over 100 miles per hour!

To move quickly, wolf spiders lift their front two pairs of legs up off the ground as they sprint. This allows their back legs to propel their bodies forward similar to a wheelbarrow.

If threatened, most wolf spiders will rapidly retreat out of danger. Some species may stand their ground or make quick aggressive lunges as a defense. Female wolf spiders defending an egg sac can be especially fierce.


Wolf spiders are highly adaptable and found in a broad range of habitat types around the world. They can thrive in grasslands, forests, deserts, wetlands, and even urban areas.

Some species prefer to hunt in open areas while others stick to dense vegetation. Wolf spiders that live in arid environments are often nocturnal to avoid daytime heat and dryness.

Wolf spiders don’t build permanent webs. However, females do spin silk retreats or burrows lined with silk to guard egg sacs and provide shelter. Other wolf spiders may rest under rocks, logs, leaf litter, or other natural nooks and crevices.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Wolf spiders have a complex courtship ritual that ends with the male depositing sperm into the female’s reproductive organs using his pedipalps.

After mating, the female lays batches of fertilized eggs into an egg sac made of silk. She carries this egg sac attached to her spinnerets until the spiderlings are ready to hatch.

Wolf spider eggs undergo complete metamorphosis with four life stages:


  • Females lay about 30-60 eggs per egg sac
  • Eggs are protected in a silken egg sac carried by the female


  • Spiderlings hatch from the eggs after 3-4 weeks
  • They climb onto the mother’s back after hatching


  • After their first molt, spiderlings detach from the mother and disperse
  • May take 2-3 years to reach full maturity depending on species


  • Once sexually mature, males seek out females primarily in the spring and summer
  • Adult females may live up to 2 years in the wild

Some wolf spider species are unique in that females will provide extended maternal care. After spiderlings emerge, they will ride on the mother’s back for several days until they are ready to hunt alone. If threatened, the mother will scoop up her babies and carry them to safety.

Common Wolf Spider Species

There are more than 100 wolf spider species in North America alone. Some of the most common and widespread include:

Carolina Wolf Spider

The Carolina wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis) is a large hairy spider found throughout the United States and parts of Canada. They have a legspan up to 2 inches wide. Their brown-and-grey patterned bodies help provide camouflage as they hunt in leaf litter.

Rabid Wolf Spider

The rabid wolf spider (Rabidosa rabida) has a lightning-quick bite and is polymorphic, meaning individuals within the species can vary greatly in size and color patterns. They have a legspan of around 1.5 inches and favor open habitats like fields and meadows.

Giant Wolf Spider

As the name implies, the giant wolf spider (Hogna gigantea) is one of the world’s largest wolf spiders with a legspan reaching 5 inches. Their sheer size allows them to prey on small vertebrates like mice, lizards, and frogs.

Tigrosa Spider

Tigrosa species like the western widow (Latrodectus hesperus) have a violin-like pattern on their backs. They are medium-sized wolf spiders found under rocks and wood piles in dry environments.

Hunting Wolf Spider

Hunting wolf spiders (Lycosa) are a genus of mostly large and hairy wolf spiders. The Carolina wolf spider was previously classified in this genus.

Wolf Spiders and Humans

Wolf spiders play an important role in controlling pest populations. Since they hunt by tracking down prey rather than using webs, they help suppress insects like roaches, beetles, ants, and crickets around homes and gardens.

While wolf spiders do have venom, their bites are not considered medically significant to humans in most cases. They are unlikely to bite unless touched or aggressively provoked. The bite may cause mild pain, swelling, and itching lasting up to a week.

Here are some tips for coexisting with wolf spiders:

  • Avoid disturbing wolf spiders when possible and do not handle them
  • Check shoes and clothing when outside to avoid accidental bites
  • Remove leaf litter, firewood piles, and other clutter near homes to discourage spiders
  • Use non-toxic pest management methods like sticky traps instead of pesticides
  • Seal cracks around windows and doors to prevent entry into the home

Wolf Spider FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about wolf spiders:

How big do wolf spiders get?

Wolf spider sizes vary greatly by species. Smaller species may only reach 0.25 inches in body length while the giant wolf spider can have a 5 inch legspan. Most common wolf spiders in homes and gardens range from 0.5-2 inches long.

Where are wolf spiders found?

Wolf spiders have a cosmopolitan distribution and inhabit every continent except Antarctica. They are found worldwide in a broad range of habitats including forests, grasslands, deserts, and human dwellings.

What do wolf spiders eat?

Wolf spiders are carnivorous and consume a variety of small invertebrates. Their prey primarily consists of insects like ants, crickets, roaches, flies, and moths. Larger species may also eat other spiders, millipedes, lizards, mice, and frogs.

Are wolf spiders dangerous?

Wolf spiders are not considered dangerous or medically significant to humans. They rarely bite unless mishandled or trapped against bare skin. For most people, a wolf spider bite may cause mild pain, itching, swelling, and irritation lasting up to a week.

Are wolf spiders poisonous or venomous?

Wolf spiders are venomous, not poisonous. They inject venom through fangs to subdue prey. However, their venom is not considered toxic or harmful to humans in healthy individuals. The venom may cause localized skin irritation in bitten areas.

Do wolf spiders jump?

Wolf spiders don’t jump or leap towards prey like some other spider families. They rely on their quick reflexes and speedy movements on foot to catch food. However, males of some species like the rabid wolf spider will lunge aggressively when defending territories.

Do wolf spiders live alone or in groups?

Wolf spiders are mostly solitary and hunt alone except when mating or caring for young. Females may share shelters and cooperate in caring for their egg sacs and offspring after hatching. Aside from maternal care, wolf spiders do not spin communal webs or live in structured groups.

How long do wolf spiders live?

The average lifespan of a wolf spider is about 1-2 years depending on species and habitat. Females tend to live longer than males. In ideal conditions, some female wolf spiders may live up to 5 years in captivity. In the wild, most will live about one season after reaching maturity.


Wolf spiders are fascinating and ubiquitous predators found worldwide. Their unique eye arrangement gives them keen eyesight to hunt without spin webs and trap prey. While large and imposing in appearance, wolf spiders are not considered harmful to humans and help control pest insects. Learning to coexist with these charismatic spiders will allow you to appreciate the biology and behaviors of wolf spiders in your own backyard.

Summary of Key Points

  • Wolf spiders belong to the family Lycosidae with over 2,300 species worldwide.
  • They have brown, grey, or black bodies with long sturdy legs for running down prey.
  • Excellent eyesight allows them to hunt without spin webs to trap insects and other invertebrates.
  • Wolf spiders carry egg sacs with them and often exhibit extended maternal care behaviors.
  • Habitats range from forests to deserts, but all wolf spiders are carnivorous predators.
  • Bites are venomous but not considered medically significant to humans except in rare cases of allergies.
  • Learning to coexist with wolf spiders allows you to appreciate these speedy hunters in your garden ecosystem.