Wolf Spiders

It’s one of the good guys, but keep your distance anyway.
Wolf Spider on hand.jpg

Wolf Spider

Wolf spiders are beneficial in the garden, but they will bite if provoked.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Steve Groh

Image courtesy of Steve Groh

Wolf spiders are beneficial in the garden, but they will bite if provoked.

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Unlike most spiders, you will not find the wolf spider perched in a web laying in wait for its prey. Named for its style of attack, this solitary arachnid is a true hunter. Although they are able to climb and swim, they are primarily ground dwellers. Found in open, grassy areas, under yard debris, lurking in underground tunnels or along stream beds, wolf spiders may lie in wait for insects, other spiders or even small amphibians. Often though, they hunt more actively, chasing down prey at a breakneck speed of approximately two feet per second. If that doesn’t seem fast, consider the distance from the tip of your finger to the nape of your neck.

There are over 125 different species of wolf spiders in the United States, ranging from ¼” to over an inch in length. Identified by orange-brown coloring with black markings, these hairy spiders have the requisite eight legs, but also an extra set of smaller appendages on the front of their bodies with which to capture prey.  The wolf spider is a frightening creature to behold, and although their venom is relatively harmless (unless allergic), their bite can be painful and they will defend themselves if provoked.

Lest you think this fearsome creature is beyond redemption, it does have a softer side when it comes to caring for its young. While most spiders leave an egg sac to develop, wolf spiders carry their eggs in a silken papoose on their abdomen. Nurturing by nature, once the eggs have hatched, the female wolf spider will carry dozens of baby spiders on her back until they are old enough to fend for themselves.

Like other spiders, the wolf spider is a valuable part of the ecosystem, helping to keep insect populations in check with its prodigious appetite. Despite its contributions and the charm of its mothering instincts, most consider this mildly venomous spider an undesirable guest around the garden or occasionally in the home. Because the wolf spider is solitary by nature, addressing the problem one spider at a time may be enough to solve the problem. If, however, wolf spiders have settled in or around your home, additional measures may be necessary.

Remember that the wolf spider is actually one of the good guys. Live and let live, if possible. When it comes to biting spiders though (even relatively harmless ones) most of us draw the line at the front door. To keep wolf spiders from stopping by, start by sealing any gaps around doors, windows or foundations. Clearing out any accumulated leaves or lawn clutter around the house will also limit spider curb appeal.

If wolf spiders have become an unbearable presence in or around the home, treatment with pesticides is an option. Chemical treatments should always be used explicitly as directed or deployed by professionals.

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