Hairy Wolf Spiders Live Up To Their Name

It’s fall, which means spider season! There are so many spiders around us. Do you see one? Is the spider super fast? Very hairy? Drab brown in color for perfect camouflage? Giant big eyes? It might just be a wolf spider!

(Photo via Shutterstock)

There are 3,000 species of wolf spiders, and they live on every continent except Antarctica. Wolf spiders can live almost anywhere: mountains, deserts, rainforests, grasslands … and our lawns. There is probably one near you right now! They live under leaves, logs and rocks. Sometimes they dig tunnels into the ground.

Why are they called wolf spiders? They do have some wolf-like things about them. Wolf spiders are fuzzy. Their bodies and legs are covered in bristly hairs. At one time, people thought they hunted in packs like wolves. While that has been disproven, they are wonderful hunters, just like the animal they are named after. And like wolves, they hunt at night.

 

Words to know

Ambush: A surprise attack.

Liquefy: To make or become liquid.

Pouncing: To spring or swoop suddenly to catch prey.

Reflective: Capable of providing a reflection.

Rhythmically: Done in a way with rhythm.

 

Wolf spiders don’t spin webs to catch a tasty snack. They sprint, chasing and pouncing on insects. These aggressive hunters might also play the long game. Sometimes they lie in wait at the entrance of their tunnels and ambush crickets and beetles as they pass by. Once caught, their prey is mushed into a ball. The wolf spider will inject venom, liquifying the insects’ internal organs. Then it’s dinnertime.

These wonderful spiders can range from about 1/4 of an inch to 2 inches long. They blend into their surroundings with drab blacks, browns, oranges and grays. This camouflages them from their prey, and it also hides them from wasps and mantis flies that would eat them.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Like all spiders, they have two main body parts: a cephalothorax and an abdomen. The cephalothorax is like the head with extras. This is where you find the eyes, mouth, fangs, pedipalps (long mouth parts) and legs. The abdomen holds their reproductive organs and digestive organs. It’s also where they produce silk.

It’s a myth that all spiders have eight eyes. Some species don’t have any eyes, while others can have as many as 12. However, wolf spiders have eight dark eyes on their heads (aka cephalothorax). There are two large eyes on top of their heads, two large eyes facing front and four small eyes that line up over their mouth.

Because they hunt at night, they must use every trick in the book to capture as much light as possible to see. They have a special reflective surface at the back of their eyes called a tapetum lucidum. Think of it like a mirror. When light enters their eyeballs, it bounces off the back of their eyes, giving spiders extra light.

Shine a flashlight in your grass and see if you can spot a green glittery glow. That is the tapetum lucidum reflecting back from spider eyes. It’s called eyeshine.

When it’s time to mate, male spiders attract female attention. They might rhythmically wave their pedipalps (long mouth parts) in the air, or they will drum them on leaves.

A wolf spider with babies on its back. (Photo via Shutterstock)

After they mate, the female spins a round egg sac that holds about 100 eggs. She attaches it to her abdomen and carries it around with her everywhere. When the young spiderlings are ready to hatch, mom rips open the top of the egg sac. All those spiderlings crawl up mom’s legs and onto her back. Again, mom carries her young everywhere until they are ready to go out on their own.

Now that you know more about them, keep your eyes peeled for wolf spiders! Grab a flashlight to look for their eyeshine staring back at you at night. Pay attention to leaf litter when you walk by. They are fun to watch and pretty amazing animals!

____________ Follow Willy's Wilderness on Facebook for more kid-friendly nature stories and activities.