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Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

Local animals in this group:


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.

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.

  • 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.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds

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.

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.

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.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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. "Lycosidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 23, 2024 at

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.
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