Wolf Spiders

Introduction

The Greek name for wolf is Lycos, and Wolf Spiders (Lycosidae spp.) got their name because they hunt down their prey, in contrast to spiders catching their prey in webs. Wolf spiders are characterized by a good vision, not capturing their prey in webs and females carrying their egg sacs with them (most do). It is a diurnal spider with fairly large and robust front legs. Wolf Spiders use their strong cheliceraes to crush prey, and they occasionally inflict sharp stinging bites on humans. Previosly, it was thought that they hunted in groups like wolves, which is not the case. They are very fast and can reach a speed of nearly 2 feet per second over very short distance.

The appearances of wolf spiders, dark or brownish with bristles on their legs and body, make some species look a bit like Tarantulas, but they are in fact very different from Tarantulas. As there are many different Wolf Spider species, their appearances vary a lot.

Wolf spiders can reach a size of up to 1.2 inches. That is the body size only – if the legs are included the total length of a Wolf Spider can be almost four inches. Wolf spiders are rarely found in groups and they prefer to hunt alone. Some are ambushers lying in wait for a prey to pass by or exit from a burrow. Others chases their prey over relatively short distances. Wolf spiders depend on their sight and have eight eyes in total. Of these are two very large. Above them, and laterally, they have two smaller eyes – and below the two large eyes, in a middle row, a row of four relatively small eyes is seen.

Although they have a good vision, they cannot discriminate between e.g. a finger and an insect; erroneously this have lead to the wrong conclusion that Wolf Spiders are naturally aggressive which they are not.

However, the most pronounced feature of wolf spiders is that females carry their egg sacs with them. The sac is attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen and the female wolf spider keeps her abdomen in a position that avoids the eggs being damaged. The egg sacs are white and occasionally even blueish. When the spiderlings are ready to hatch, she opens the egg sacs with her jaws. However, a few species (Arctosa, Trochosa and Alopecosa) hides their eggs underground and do not carry them with them.

The spiderlings attach themselves to the top of the females abdomen, and until their first change of skin they will stay with their mother. She will hunt with the spiders attached to her and provide her offspring with the necessary protection.

A unique feature of the wolf spiders is that their eyes reflect light well. So if you bring a flash light with you into wolf spider territory, you will probably see some spider eyes.

Habitat

For some people wolf spiders are a common pest in their homes, and it is true that in the fall they look for warm places to overwinter. Wolf spiders are found on the ground in almost any terrestrial habitat. They of course prefer places were prey can be found such as around doors, near plants, windows, humid basements, and garages. Away from suburban gardens, they can be found in nearly all habitats. Wolf spiders disperse aerially and they are quite mobile too, so they are found almost everywhere.

Distribution

The 125 species of Wolf spiders in the USA can be found all across the country and wolf spiders are one of the most abundant spiders in the US. They are extremely common in California and some even call them California Wolf Spiders. In Texas they have the Texas Rabid Wolf Spider which is one of the biggest spiders of Texas.

Bites

Wolf spiders are venomous and their venom is poisonous. Bites that penetrates the skin can cause serious pain, swelling and itchiness. Some people only experience the symptoms for a few minutes while others get a wound that takes a few days to heal. If the victim is either a child or elderly, medical treatment should be sought. The bite may in itself be infectious and potentially dangerous if proper actions are not taken. Although a survey showed (Isbister & Framenau, 2004) that the median duration of acute pain from wolf spider bites were 10 minutes, and the majority of bite effects were due to mechanical trauma, wolf spider bites should be avoided.

If you get a bite do not put a bandage on the wound but wash it with soap and warm water. To reduce the swelling you can put an ice pack over the bite area. If the pain persists it could be a bite from a brown recluse spider and you should seek medical treatment immediately. A tetanus immunization is always recommended after a sider bite.

Diet

Wolf spiders eat insects. Crickets are among their favorites but they also eat fly-grubs, cockroaches, mealworms and beetles. Also, there is some evidence of cannibalism.

Reproduction, courtship, and mating

The male wolf spider is smaller than the female, so to avoid any trouble the male approaches the female with caution. and weaves his front legs to identify himself and make his intentions clear. If lucky he is not eaten and it must be noted that not all wolf spiders are cannibalistic.

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