Wolf spiders’ enormous size and rugged appearance make them quite frightening. The fact that they can bite you when they feel vulnerable or provoked makes people even more apprehensive about them. But are wolf spiders poisonous? This article will address this and other concerns related to wolf spiders.
What’s a Wolf Spider?
A wolf spider is a member of the family Lycosidae. This spider lives in solitude and hunts alone. It doesn’t spin webs, but it’s a very agile and robust hunter with superb eyesight.
Some wolf spiders can be opportunistic hunters, chasing after their prey for a short distance or pouncing on it unawares. Others attack their prey as it passes through or near the mouth of a tunnel. Although a wolf spider resembles a nursery web spider (family Pisauridae), it doesn’t carry its egg sac with its chelicerae and pedipalp; instead, it attaches it to its spinneret.
A wolf spider has eight eyes, two of which are large and protruding. This attribute separates a wolf spider from a nursery web spider, whose eyes are all the same size. A wolf spider’s eyes also help to distinguish it from the grass spider, which is almost identical to it.
Description of a Wolf Spider
A standard wolf spider’s body size ranges between 10 and 35 mm (0.4 to 1.38 inches). The spider’s eight eyes are arranged in three rows, with the bottom row comprising four tiny eyes, while the middle row has two large eyes. The top row has two medium-sized eyes.
Unlike other arachnids, which are largely blind or have poor vision, the wolf spider has excellent eyesight. The spider’s four largest eyes (secondary eyes) have tapetum lucidum – a retro-reflective tissue present in the eyes. This tissue reflects light back to its source, creating a glow that can be noticed easily, especially when the source of the light is roughly coaxial with the sensor.
Of all known spider groups, the wolf spider possesses the third-best eyesight after the jumping spider of the family Salticidae and the huntsman spider. The jumping spider’s eyesight is so good that it can distinguish colors. Another notable trait of the wolf spider is how it carries its eggs. Its egg sac – a round, silken ball – is attached to the spider’s spinnerets at the rear end of the abdomen.
The spider’s abdomen is held in a raised position to prevent the egg sac from getting dragged on the ground. Interestingly, the spider is still able to hunt prey even with this extra baggage. Another interesting characteristic of a wolf spider is how it takes care of its young ones. Once the spiderlings come out of their protective smooth case, they climb up their mother’s legs and hold onto her abdomen on the dorsal side.
The mother drags them along with her for several weeks as they develop. Once they are well developed to fend for themselves, they’ll leave their mother’s side to survive on their own. This trait is unique to wolf spiders as there’s no other known spider that carries its spiderlings on its back.
A wolf spider uses camouflage to hide from predators. That’s why it doesn’t have a flashy appearance like other spiders. Its pigmentation is suitable for its favorite habitat. This spider belongs to the Hogna genus, which has the largest of wolf spiders.
In the United States, the largest wolf spider in the hogna species is the dark brown Carolina wolf spider (H. carolinensis), which can grow up to 2.5 cm long. This spider is at times confused with the H. helluo, which is slightly smaller and has a different pigmentation. The underside of the H. helluo spider is variegated with red, orange, and yellow shades, while that of H. carolinesis is solid black.
Some wolf spiders like H. carolinesis make deep tubular tunnels where they loiter most of the time. Others hide under rocks and other concealed shelters provided by nature. Male wolf spiders can be found in homes and other housing spaces, especially in autumn, as they roam around seeking females.
Wolf spiders are considered beneficial bugs because they help human beings to control insects. They feed on other insects found in houses, farms, and gardens.
Are Wolf Spiders Dangerous?
Although they are referred to as wolf spiders, these spiders don’t look or behave exactly like wolves. However, they have predatory tendencies like wolves. Since these spiders don’t spin webs like other species of spiders, they have to chase after their prey or pounce on it when it passes near their hideouts.
When they catch prey, wolf spiders paralyze it with their venom. So, does this mean that a wolf spider’s venom is poisonous? The answer is no. This venom is meant for the spider’s food, often tiny bugs like weevils, carpet beetles, fruit flies, ants, etc.
While this venom is strong enough to paralyze bugs, it’s not poisonous to larger creatures like human beings. This means that wolf spiders don’t pose any real danger to human beings and animals. Nevertheless, a wolf spider can bite you if it feels provoked or threatened. So, you should handle it with care.
This spider is generally not aggressive towards larger creatures like humans unless it’s provoked. Furthermore, its venom contains low levels of neurotoxic action that lessens the damage of its bite on a human being. But its bite is quite painful. So, although you’ll feel pain when a wolf spider bites you, you’re not likely to develop an infection or a severe reaction.
A wolf spider’s bite is the same as a bee sting or any other bug bite, leaving you with nothing more than an itchy or swollen red lump. The effects of a wolf spider’s bite go away after one or two days. So, you don’t need medical attention.
But you should see a medical doctor if you develop a serious allergic reaction after the bite. Although this spider’s venom isn’t poisonous to humans, it can cause an allergic creation, especially in people with highly sensitive skin or immune systems. If you have a sensitive immune system, it’ll react negatively to the venom, causing various complications like a red line extending from the bite site, skin rash, or infection.
The red line on your skin indicates a blood infection, which may require medical attention. You should also see your doctor immediately if you develop a swollen face, difficulty breathing, dizziness, or elevated heart rate after a wolf spider bites you. Otherwise, you should treat the bite the same way you treat any other bug bite.
Just clean the bite wound gently with warm water and soap and cover it with a clean bandage to prevent infections. The wound will heal on its own in a few days. But the most effective way to stay safe is to avoid coming into contact with a wolf spider. If it’s already in your garden or house, don’t provoke it or try to grab it with bare hands.