Wolf Spiders

Habits and traits of wolf spiders

Female Wolf Spider, Lycosidae, with young on back, Houston County, Minnesota, USA

James Gerholdt/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The wolf spiders (family Lycosidae) are difficult to spot and even tougher to catch. Most lycosids live on the ground, where they use keen eyesight and quick speed to capture prey. Lycosa means 'wolf' in Greek and wolf spiders are one of the largest spider families.

It's very likely that you will come across wolf spiders a few times in your life. They live in a variety of habitats throughout the world and are prevalent in North America. A wolf spider bite can be quite painful, but it is not necessarily dangerous, though you should see a doctor anyway.

What Do Wolf Spiders Look Like?

Wolf spiders vary greatly in size. The smallest may measure only 3 millimeters in body length, while most lycosids are larger, reaching up to 30 millimeters. Many species live in burrows in the ground, and most are nocturnal.

Most lycosids are brown, gray, black, pale orange, or cream. They often have stripes or speckles. The head region of the cephalothorax usually narrows. The legs, particularly the first two pairs, may be spiny to help the spiders hold their prey.

Spiders in the family Lycosidae can be identified by their eye arrangement. Wolf spiders have eight eyes, arranged in three rows. Four small eyes make up the lower row. In the center row, the wolf spider has two large, forward-facing eyes. The remaining two eyes in the upper row vary in size, but these face the sides of the head.

Classification of Wolf Spiders

  • Kingdom - Animalia
  • Phylum - Arthropoda
  • Class – Arachnida
  • Order – Araneae
  • Family - Lycosidae

What Do Wolf Spiders Eat?

Lycosids are solitary spiders and feed primarily on insects. Some larger wolf spiders may also prey on small vertebrates.

Rather than build webs to trap prey, wolf spiders hunt them down at night. They move very fast and are known to climb or swim while hunting, despite being ground dwellers.

The Wolf Spider Life Cycle

While males rarely live beyond one year, female wolf spiders may live for several. Once she has mated, the female will lay a clutch of eggs and wrap them in a round, silk ball. She attaches the egg case to the underside of her abdomen, using her spinnerets to hold it in place. Burrowing wolf spiders place their egg sacs in the tunnel by night, but bring them to the surface for warmth during the day. 

When the spiderlings hatch, they climb onto the mother's back until they have grown enough to venture out on their own. These mothering behaviors are characteristic of and unique to the life cycle of wolf spiders.

Special Behaviors of Wolf Spiders

Wolf spiders have keen senses, which they use to hunt, find mates, and protect themselves from predators. They can see quite well and are highly sensitive to vibrations which alert them to movements of other organisms. Wolf spiders rely on camouflage to hide them in the leaf litter where they roam.

Lycosids do use venom to subdue their prey. Some wolf spiders will flip onto their backs, using all eight legs like a basket to hold an insect catch. They will then bite the prey with sharp fangs to render it immobile.

Where Are Wolf Spiders Found?

Wolf spiders live nearly worldwide, just about any place where they can find insects for food. Lycosids are common in fields and meadows, but also inhabit mountains, deserts, rainforests, and wetlands.

Arachnologists have described over 2,300 species. There are about 200 kinds of wolf spiders living in North America.

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Hadley, Debbie. "Wolf Spiders." ThoughtCo, Aug. 5, 2021, thoughtco.com/wolf-spiders-family-lycosidae-1968565. Hadley, Debbie. (2021, August 5). Wolf Spiders. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/wolf-spiders-family-lycosidae-1968565 Hadley, Debbie. "Wolf Spiders." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/wolf-spiders-family-lycosidae-1968565 (accessed June 7, 2023).