Wolf spiders, belonging to the family Lycosidae are one of the most common types of hunting spider in the world today, being found on every inhabited continent. They are also misunderstood by many people, who might be frightened of their appearance or speed. Many people also assume them to be dangerous because some of them can reach large sizes, although this isn’t the case either.
Wolf spiders are so named because they ferociously hunt their prey, similarly to a wolf. Most species roam around at ground level until they find something appetizing, and then quickly attack and subdue it. This differs from many spiders, which make webs and then passively wait for their prey to come to them. Because they don’t have the safe haven of a web to rest on, most wolf spiders live in crevices or burrows in or low to the ground. It is common to find them sheltering under rocks or when disturbing leaf litter.
Because wolf spiders spend their lives in amongst the leaf litter where there are many more species than in the air, they have had to become hardier than many types of spider. This is why they are often able to attack and eat web-building spiders even of their own size. Of the wolf spiders that live several years, many will hibernate during the colder winter months either in a burrow or under a rock. Those that live under rocks tend not to hibernate fully, which would be very dangerous, but rather just become sluggish and only move if they have to.
Because wolf spiders don’t build webs to catch their prey it was thought for many years that they were unable to produce silk. More recent research has found this to be untrue, indeed the white covering that their eggs are encased in is made from silk. They will often spin silk inside their burrows as well to protect them from the cold and even to keep inquisitive insects away by completely encasing themselves.
Wolf spiders unlike many other types of spider carry their egg sac around with them attached to their abdomens. The reason being that many species live more then a single year and can therefore protect their young better. Web building spiders tend to fasten their egg sacs in a quiet, dark place and die soon afterwards. But wolf spiders will carry their eggs around until they hatch and then carry the young on their backs until they are ready to fend for themselves.
This method of protecting their young has its benefits and of course its downsides. On the one hand the mother protecting the eggs in this way means that more of them will likely hatch and reach an age where they can protect themselves. On the downside of course if the mother is killed whilst carrying the sac, then all of the young are lost. This is how many people identify wolf spiders and differentiate them from other types. It is a common sight to see female wolf spiders in fact sitting in the sun to warm their eggs, which helps them to develop and hatch faster.
A good way to identify wolf spiders is that they have very good eyes, and two much larger then the others in the centre of their heads. Most spiders having all their eyes the same size, and not being able to see very well, or perceive colour at all. This is why when you disturb a wolf spider it will bolt immediately, but when approaching a web with a spider sitting in the middle it will usually not move or even notice that you are there.
Far from being things to be feared as many people do, wolf spiders are in fact useful to have in either the home or garden. The reason being that they are voracious predators and will readily eat much more troublesome insects such as recluse spiders or ants. Contrary to popular belief they are also not aggressive as many think. In fact when encountered they will usually try to get away from humans as quickly as they can, having as most spiders do, an intense fear of anything larger then themselves.