Wolf Spider What Do They Eat?

Eating Habits of the Wolf Spider

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The quintessential spider spins a web on which she waits for prey to come to her. That’s not the case with wolf spiders, though. They’re active hunters who ambush and kill a wide variety of prey — some as larger or larger than themselves.

Active Eaters

Many spiders spin silken webs to passively capture prey, but wolf spiders don’t wait for dinner delivery. These spiders, members of the Lycosidae family, are active hunters who stalk and either corner or rush their prey. Most active outdoors at night, wolf spiders can travel great distances in pursuit of food and don’t usually settle into permanent homes or territories. Some species dig burrows to hide during the day — others hide in them until they can ambush prey — which they line or cover with silk. Although many spiders sport six to eight simple eyes of relatively similar size in a couple of rows, wolf spiders have eight eyes in three sizes arranged in three rows — all the better to see you with. Their touch receptors are also finely honed to detect motion, which helps with hunting.

Dinner Menu

Like many other families of spiders, wolf spiders are distributed across every continent except Antarctica. As such, their diet includes a litany of region- and climate-specific insects, other arachnids, and even reptiles and amphibians. The diet of a given species doesn’t necessarily match that of its brethren in other areas, but there are some general commonalities. Some species are smaller than one-tenth of an inch long, while others can grow to lengths in excess of 1 inch. Most wolf spiders eat a variety of large insects, including beetles and grasshoppers. They’ll generally attack prey as large or even larger than themselves.

Circumstances

Because wolf spiders are nocturnal hunters, it’s natural to assume they primarily eat insects and other prey that are most active at night. That’s usually the case for wolf spiders who use burrows and other hiding spots to ambush their prey, but a hungry wolf spider can become quite a bit more resourceful. They’re not above scavenging or even more devious tactics. Although youth and kinship appear to be mitigating factors, wolf spiders will eat other wolf spiders, according to University of Cincinnati research published in 2003. That’s part of the reason you’ll rarely encounter more than one or two wolf spiders in a given area. Among solitary adults, an interaction between wolf spiders usually results in mating or cannibalism — or sometimes both — regardless of whether other food sources are readily available.

Venomous Consequences

Wolf spiders produce venom, which they inject via their fang-tipped jaws, called chelicerae. When these spider pounce on their prey, they envenom them — paralyzing or, more often, killing the animal. Wolf spiders immediately begin consuming their meal after this. Although they’re not typically aggressive toward people, they will bite if cornered or handled roughly. Fortunately, though, wolf spider venom isn’t particularly harmful to humans. Many a brown wolf spider has been confused for a brown recluse, though, leading to confusion and panic.

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Wolf Spiders: Bites, Babies & Other Facts

The name “wolf spider” encompasses a large family of spiders, most of which are large, dark-colored and athletic. Unlike most spiders that catch their prey in webs, wolf spiders violently hunt it down using their strong bodies and sharp eyesight. These spiders also exhibit unique parenting habits that are of great interest to scientists.

See also:  What Eats Spiders In Houses?

Wolf spiders live almost everywhere in the world, according to the BioKids. They are especially common in grasslands and meadows, but also live in mountains, deserts, rainforests and wetlands — anywhere they can find insects to eat.

A female wolf spider carries her egg sac through the underbrush. (Image credit: McCarthy’s PhotoWorks Shutterstock)

Appearance

Wolf spiders are usually brown, grey, black or tan, with dark markings — most commonly stripes, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Their coloring is effective camouflage, helping them catch their prey and keep safe from predators. They range from a quarter of an inch to over an inch (6.4 millimeters to 3 centimeters) long, with males typically smaller than females.

Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal, an arachnologist at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, told Live Science that wolf spiders have a “distinctive eye arrangement, where the front or anterior row is composed of four small eyes of roughly the same size arranged in almost a straight row. The back or posterior row is arranged in a V-pattern with the apex next to the anterior row.” Wolf spiders have excellent night vision, and primarily hunt in the dark. “They are also quite easily detected at night due to their eyeshine,” she said.

According to the Pennsylvania State University Entomology Department, wolf spiders will bite when threatened but their venom is not very harmful to humans. Human victims may exhibit some redness or swelling but no serious medical problems have ever been reported.

Habits and feeding

Wolf spiders are solitary creatures that roam alone in the night, stalking prey. According to Sewlal, they are “mostly nocturnal and often mistaken for tarantulas.” According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, they typically live on the ground, though some are known to climb partly up trees to catch their prey. Some species hide in vegetation or leaf litter, while others dig tunnels or use other animals’ tunnels. Some wolf spiders hunt in a set territory and return to a specific place to feed, while others wander nomadically with no territory or home.

Wolf spiders eat mostly ground-dwelling insects and other spiders. Especially large females may eat small vertebrates, according to BioKids. Some species chase down and grab their prey, while others wait for it to walk by and ambush it. Wolf spiders often jump on their prey, hold it between their legs and roll over on their backs, trapping their prey with their limbs before biting it.

Wolf spiders use their keen eyesight, camouflage coloring, speedy movements and high sensitivity to vibrations to be aware of and keep safe from predators. They will bite when threatened. According to the University of Michigan Department of Conservation, however, wolf spiders are also an important food sources for lizards, birds, and some rodents.

A female wolf spider carries her babies on her back. (Image credit: IrinaK Shutterstock)

Mating

According to BioKids, wolf spiders, who use their eyes more than many other types of spiders, use visual cues in mating. The males signal their interest to females by waving their pedipalps (short, sensory appendages near their mouths) in special patterns or banging them together.

After mating, female wolf spiders lay several dozen or more eggs and wrap them in silk, creating an egg sac. “Female wolf spiders carry their egg sacs attached to her spinnerets,” said Sewlal. If the female is separated from the egg sac, she will search furiously for it. Mothers are known to exhibit aggressive behavior when carrying their egg sacs.

This maternal behavior doesn’t stop after the eggs hatch. “After hatching, the spiderlings climb on their mother’s back and she carries then around for several days,” said Sewlal.

Male wolf spiders typically live for one year or less, while females can live for several years.

Taxonomy/classification

They belong to the Lycosidae family, which is from a Greek word meaning “wolf.” According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), the taxonomy of wolf spiders is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Subkingdom: Bilateria
  • Infrakingdom: Protostomia
  • Superphylum: Ecdysozoa
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Arachnida
  • Order: Araneae
  • Family: Lycosidae
  • Genera & species: There are more than 100 genera and about 2,300 species of wolf spiders; 200 species live in the United States. The Carolina wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis) is the official state spider of South Carolina, which is the only state that has a state spider.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like more information on this topic, we recommend the following book:

Additional resources

  • Learn more about Jo-Anne Sewlal’s research on orb-weaving spiders.
  • BioKids explores Lycosidae.
  • Clemson University discusses South Carolina’s official state spider.

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See also:  How Do I Know What Kind Of Spider Bit Me?

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What Are the Predators of the Wolf Spider?

What Eats Cockroaches?

Wolf spiders are a fairly large and hairy spiders of the family Lycosidae found on multiple continents including North America. Their appearance often has them mistaken for tarantulas, but they’re actually a different species. The wolf spider enjoys preying on crickets, cockroaches, grasshoppers, beetles, ants, other spiders and even small amphibians and reptiles. On the other end of things, they’ve also got a hefty number of predators to deal with themselves.

Wasps as Predators

Wolf spiders are a choice incubator for various wasp species. While the mother wasp won’t eat the wolf spider, it will temporarily paralyze the spider with its stinger before injecting its egg into the spider. As the wasp larvae mature, they feed off the wolf spider, eating it from the inside out. Depending on the wasp species, the practice differs slightly. Some wasps drag the spider to a nest and completely trap it, protecting the larvae inside. Alternately, some species inject the egg then let the spider run free. Either way, the spider slowly dies as the larvae mature inside it.

Amphibians and Small Reptiles

Amphibians also enjoy the tasty meal the wolf spider provides. Creatures like frogs, toads and salamanders have all been known to eat multiple species of spider. Amphibious predators typically eat any creature small enough for them to swallow whole so whether the wolf spider gets eaten depends more on its size compared to the individual amphibian rather than the species of amphibian. Similarly, small reptiles like snakes and lizards also eat wolf spiders, though larger species may pass this particular spider up in favor of a larger meal.

Shrews and Coyotes

Belonging to the order Insectivora, the name implies that shrews typically eat insects. While wolf spiders are arachnids, they’re close enough as far as the shrew is concerned. Shrews are tiny and require almost constant food intake to keep their energy levels up, making them a voracious hunter, with some even having venomous saliva for larger or well-defended food sources. While they’re too small to provide a full coyote meal, coyotes have also been known to devour wolf spiders.

Spider-Eating Birds

Birds are found throughout the world and, overall, they’ve got a very diverse appetite. While some prefer seeds and plant matter, others enjoy live prey. Multiple bird species, including screech and elf owls, are predators of the wolf spider. Wolf spiders don’t use webs so they typically have to physically go out and hunt for their food, leaving them vulnerable to bird attacks from above.

Defenses from Spider Predators

Though they have plenty of predators who’d love to make their next meal a wolf spider, these spiders have a few defense mechanisms to help protect them from becoming victims of the food chain. Wandering wolf spider species use their agility and quickness to escape death, also using their environment to blend in. Their vibration sensitivity and excellent vision also aid in their defense, though if they’re forced to fight, they’ll bite their opponents with their large jaws. If faced with death, they’re willing to sacrifice losing a leg to immediately survive the situation, though losing a leg makes them slower and vulnerable to future attack.

References

  • University of Michigan- BioKids: Wolf Spiders
  • University of Michigan- BioKids: Amphibians
  • University of Michigan- BioKids: Shrews
  • Desert USA: The Wolf Spider; Jay W. Sharp;
  • SA Photographs: Wolf Spider; October 2009

About the Author

Matt Koble has been writing professionally since 2008. He has been published on websites such as DoItYourself. Koble mostly writes about technology, electronics and computer topics.

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Additional information:

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Lycosidae

What do they look like?

This is a big family of big spiders. Some species are small but most are large: they range from 3-30 mm in body length. Female wolf spiders are often bigger than males of the same species.

Like all spiders they have two body sections: the cephalothorax in front and an abdomen behind. The abdomen contains the digestive and reproductive systems, and on the underside of it are the glands where silk is produced. The structures that produce the silk are called spinnerets.

Wolf spiders have eight legs, all attached to the cephalothorax. On the front of the cephalothorax are the mouth, the fangs, the eyes, and two small «mini-legs» called pedipalps. These are used to grab prey, and in mating, and are much bigger in male spiders than in females. They have eight eyes in three rows. The front row has four small eyes, the middle row has two much larger eyes, and the back two eyes are medium sized and off to the sides. These spiders have strong fangs and and venom glands to quickly kill their prey.

See also:  What Is The Most Venomous Spider In The Uk?

Wolf spiders are colored in camouflage colors of brown, orange, black, and grey. Sometimes they are all one color, but usually they have some stripes or blotches.

  • Other Physical Features
  • ectothermic
  • bilateral symmetry
  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range length 3.0 to 30.0 mm 0.12 to 1.18 in

Where do they live?

Wolf spiders are found all around the world, and about 2,300 species are known. There are about 50 species of wolf spiders in Michigan.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Wolf spiders live in all kinds of habitats, anywhere there are insects to eat. They seem to be most common in open habitats like grasslands, and are often found in farm fields and meadows. Most species stay on the ground, but a few climb up onto trees and other plants when hunting. Some wolf spiders hunt along the shores of ponds and marshes, and may even dive into the water to capture prey.

  • These animals are found in the following types of habitat
  • temperate
  • tropical
  • terrestrial
  • Terrestrial Biomes
  • taiga
  • desert or dune
  • chaparral
  • forest
  • rainforest
  • scrub forest
  • mountains
  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • Wetlands
  • marsh
  • swamp

How do they grow?

Wolf spiders hatch from eggs, and the hatchlings look more or less like grown-up spiders, though sometimes their colors change as they age. In many species, the hatchlings ride on their mother’s body for some time before going off on their own.

To grow, spiders have to shed their exoskeleton, which they do many times during their lives. Unlike insects, some spider species keep growing after they become adults, and continue to molt as they get bigger.

How long do they live?

Male wolf spiders probably don’t live more than a year, but females of some species can live for several years.

How do they behave?

Many wolf spider species hunt at night, but some are active during the day.

Some species wander, hiding during the day and roaming at night to find food. Some patrol a regular territory, returning to the same place to rest. Others dig tunnels, or use tunnels made by other animals. A few build little walls or turrets around their tunnels, and then sit inside the wall looking out for passing prey or predators.

They are solitary animals, they hunt alone and only come together to mate.

  • Key Behaviors
  • diurnal
  • nocturnal
  • crepuscular
  • motile
  • nomadic
  • sedentary
  • solitary
  • territorial

How do they communicate with each other?

Wold spiders use their vision more than most other spider groups. Males often signal to females by waving their pedipalps in certain patterns. Wolf spiders are also very sensitive to vibrations in the ground, and use scent and taste as well.

What do they eat?

Wolf spiders eat insects and other invertebrates, and really large females might eat very small vertebrates, like amphibians and reptiles, if they find them. They sometimes attack insects that are larger than they are.

Different species of wolf spider have different ways of finding prey. Some build tunnels and ambush prey that come near their hiding place. Others wander on the ground, looking for small animals to eat. When they find a target, they jump on them and grab and quickly bite. Often they roll over onto their backs and hold the prey in a «basket» made by their legs before they bite.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
    • eats non-insect arthropods

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Wandering wolf spiders rely on speed and camouflage to escape predators. They have good vision and are very sensitive to vibrations in the ground that help them detect predators. Some species hide in tunnels in the ground. Wolf spiders will bite to defend themselves if necessary.

  • Known Predators
    • other spiders
    • wasps
    • ants
    • praying mantids
    • birds
    • small reptiles
    • toads and other amphibians
    • shrews

Do they cause problems?

Wolf spiders can give you a painful bite if you handle them carelessly, but it the bite usually doesn’t do much damage unless the person bitten is allergic to the venom.

How do they interact with us?

Wolf spiders are often common in agricultural areas, and can be very helpful in reducing populations of insect pests.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

No wolf spiders are known to be endangered.

  • IUCN Red List [Link] Not Evaluated

Some more information.

Wolf spiders get their name from the way some species chase and capture their prey like a little wolf. Their scientific name comes from the Ancient Greek word «lycosa», which means wolf.

. «Lycosidae» (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 11, 2020 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Lycosidae/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2020, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

www.biokids.umich.edu

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