The Eight-legged Wolf

09/13/2018
Story and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler

“A big spider just went into my boot,” my son said Saturday while we were in the garage cleaning. Fascinated, the kids dumped it out and I discovered that it was, indeed, a very big spider. Living in the woods, spiders in summer and fall are like cows on a dairy farm – unavoidable. I have to admit though, that, as the kids called it, this one was a “biggie.”

Our spider was probably two inches long, from tip of front leg to tip of back leg. It was undoubtedly a wolf spider, most probably of the genus Hogna, the largest of the Lycosidae family. These spiders are large bodied and long legged, fast and agile. This family of spiders does not spin webs to catch prey, but as their common names implies, hunts. They are known to both chase down prey and wait in ambush.

Wolf spiders have excellent vision, and ours gave me a good long look before I decided to head inside and grab the camera. Wolf spiders have eight eyes in three rows. In close-up photographic shots they have an almost-human quality, reminding me of a man with a moustache. Nocturnal hunters, these spiders have good night vision and their eyes produce eyeshine when illuminated by a flashlight like a cat. Hairs on their legs enhance their sensory acuteness while hunting.

Probably also attributing to their common name, these spiders do have large fangs and can bite if provoked. The venom of the species that inhabit the US is not lethal to humans, though it can cause pain, swelling, and itchiness at the site of the bite.

Wolf spiders are not only about hunting and killing though. Interestingly, this family of spiders cares for their young. Though they do not spin webs, wolf spiders do have spinnerets, the physiological structure with which other spiders do so. They utilize these spinnerets to carry their egg sacs, thereby protecting them from harm. As well, and unique to the arachnid world, once the tiny wolf spiders emerge from the egg sac, they climb up the mother’s legs and attach to her abdomen. The female spider will carry her babies for a few weeks until they are large enough to fend for themselves.

I am happy this spider was found out in the garage and not in the house where I’m not sure what fate would have befallen it. As such, we left it to its own and the kids said they spotted it again the following day. Maybe it will eat the chipmunk that has been trying to get into my car again. Haha, just kidding!


Gabrielle Wheeler is a freelance writer from the heart of the Finger Lakes Region. On her parenting blog, aplaceforlittlesproutstogrow.com, she writes about tending to the whole child and parent. She also works in a local health center as an interpreter/patient navigator.