Do Wolf Spiders Bite

Signs that your spider bite needs medical treatment include:

What Does a Wolf Spider Bite Look Like, and How’s It Treated?

A wolf spider bite usually leaves fang-like marks on the skin, which may look slightly torn. Some bites may cause redness, swelling, and ulcers. To treat the bite, wash the area and cover it with a bandage. You may take an antihistamine to help with itching.

All spiders can bite humans. It’s their natural response to perceived danger. However, certain spiders pose more dangers than others, depending on their venom.

Wolf spiders (Lycosa) aren’t deadly to humans but can still bite and cause uncomfortable symptoms. These spiders are found across the United States.

A wolf spider bite isn’t usually a cause for significant concern because they’re not venomous to humans. If your symptoms worsen, call your doctor.

You may be more susceptible to reactions from spider bites and require extra care. This could signify that what you thought was a wolf spider bite may actually be from another type of spider.

A wolf spider is large and hairy. They have prominent eyes that shine in light. They range between a 1/2 inch to 2 inches long. Wolf spiders are usually gray with brown to dark gray markings.

Sometimes the wolf spider is mistaken for a brown recluse spider because of its size and color. The recluse spider, however, is mostly brown, and has a darker marking on the back of its head that’s shaped like a violin.

Wolf spiders don’t spin webs to catch their prey. Instead, they hunt food on their own. They also carry eggs on the bottom portions of their bodies.

You may find them more often during the fall months when it’s too cold to hunt for food at night. Some of their favorite hiding places include closets, basements, and garages. A wolf spider may also call a houseplant home.

These hairy arachnids usually hide from people.

Wolf spiders don’t bite people often. Contacting a wolf spider by mistake could result in a bite, though.

Wolf spider bites look like other bug bites. You may notice a red bump that’s also itchy and swollen. It usually goes away within a few days. Unless you actually see the wolf spider bite you, it’s usually difficult to determine what bit you.

Some people may have allergic reactions from spider bites. You may need immediate medical attention if you have:

  • a red line that extends from the bite, which is also an early sign of a blood infection
  • a bump that increases in size and looks like hives
  • swelling in the face, especially around the mouth
  • breathing difficulties
  • dizziness or unconsciousness

The only venomous spider bites in the United States are from brown recluse and black widow spiders.

If you’re bitten by a brown recluse spider, you’ll have pain that increases exponentially within eight hours of the encounter. The red bite will slowly turn into a purplish ulcer that can also kill the surrounding skin. You’ll also experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever and chills.

A black widow spider bite may cause extreme pain, abdominal discomfort, and sweating. A wolf spider bite doesn’t cause any of these symptoms.

Treating a wolf spider bite is much like the measures you’d take for any insect bite. First, you should gently clean the bite with warm soap and water. Place a bandage over the bite to prevent infection.

If the bite becomes extremely itchy and uncomfortable, you can take a quick-acting antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). This medication can cause drowsiness.

Wolf spiders are shy and introverted, so encounters are relatively rare. They’re also on the move, unlike other spiders that stay more stagnant in their webs.

You can avoid wolf spiders by making sure you keep your home free of clutter, especially in darker rooms where these spiders are most likely to hide. You’ll also want to wear pants and long sleeves when going outdoors. This is especially practical at night when wolf spiders are most likely hunting.

Wolf spider bites aren’t deadly. They usually heal on their own within a few days. If your bite gets worse, or if it’s accompanied by unusual symptoms, see your doctor right away.

If you think you might’ve been bitten by a venomous spider, seek medical attention.

Last medically reviewed on December 12, 2017

What You Need to Know About a Wolf Spider Bite

Wolf spiders are the most common spider species in the world. They’re usually dark brown with pale markings or stripes on their back. Their colors vary based on where they live, since it mainly serves as camouflage for protection.

Understanding Wolf Spiders

Like most spiders, they have a long torso and eight legs. They grow to be one-quarter of an inch to 2 inches long. They’re found across the U.S. and around the world.

You can distinguish wolf spiders from other spider species because they have three rows of eight eyes each. They also have two larger eyes in the middle. If you’re walking around in the dark and suspect wolf spiders may be nearby, use a flashlight. You’ll be able to see the light reflect off of their large eyes.

Wolf spiders are unique to other spiders because they don’t spin webs to catch prey. Instead, they run very fast and chase down prey. They are often alarming to people, because they can grow to be large and hairy. But they’re more of a nuisance than a danger.

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Habitat. Wolf spiders live on the ground and like to hide in places like:

  • Grass
  • Under leaves and plants
  • Under rocks‌
  • Inside logs

They may even burrow into the ground or live in the crevices of trees. When they live in homes, you’re likely to spot them in warm, humid areas like:

  • Garages
  • Sheds
  • Doorways and windows‌
  • Basements

These places let them hide and give them easy access to prey.

Impact of a Wolf Spider Bite on Your Health

‌Wolf spiders don’t pose a threat to people. It is possible to be allergic to a wolf spider’s venom, but they are not poisonous. Since wolf spiders are large, their bite may be painful.

If you have mild pain, swelling, or itchiness around the bite, it shouldn’t last long. The pain should go away within minutes. The swelling should go down slowly, and the itching may last a few days as the skin heals.

Signs that your spider bite needs medical treatment include:

  • Cramping or having tight muscles around the bite
  • Headache or feeling dizzy
  • A rash that spreads outward from the site of the bite and may include itching that spreads
  • Sweating whether you feel hot or cold
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever‌
  • Weakness or uncontrollable shaking

If your symptoms don’t improve, get medical help right away. Your doctor may:

  • Prescribe stronger antihistamines to relieve itching on the wound site.
  • Prescribe antibiotics if they suspect an infection or want to prevent one.
  • Recommend surgery in the rare case that the wound is deep with a severe infection that is getting worse despite other treatment‌.
  • Give you a booster to the tetanus vaccination for added protection.

Benefits of Wolf Spiders

Many people consider wolf spiders a beneficial species because they eat other bugs and insects that we consider pests, like:

  • Crickets
  • Cockroaches
  • Mealworms‌
  • Beetles

Risks of Wolf Spiders

Wolf spiders aren’t poisonous to people, although they do have a very painful bite. It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to spider venom. If you think a spider bit you, watch for signs of a severe reaction or infection.‌

In general, wolf spiders aren’t aggressive, so they’ll only bite if they feel threatened. But you may get close to a wolf spider without realizing it and get bitten.

If you suspect a spider bite, wash the wound area right away, and use a cold compress to reduce swelling and inflammation. You can take pain medication or an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory.

If you get bitten by a wolf spider, the area will have two marks from the spider’s fangs. It will be red and may be swollen and painful. If your condition gets worse, call your doctor immediately right away.

Prevent Wolf Spider Bites

Be aware of your surroundings to prevent a wolf spider from biting you. If it’s dark, carry a flashlight with you so you can easily see anything around you.

  • Make noise as a way of warning any spiders that you’re nearby and moving toward them.
  • Shake out items like boots and boxes before picking them up.
  • Clear clutter that provides a place for wolf spiders to hide.
  • Hire a pest control service if you have a spider problem in your home.

Show Sources

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: “Spider bites.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Venomous spiders.”

Forest Preserve District of DuPage County: “Wolf Spider: Friend or Foe?”

Michigan State University: “Wolf Spider.”

Pest World: “Wolf Spiders.”

University of Nebraska-Lincoln: “Wolf Spiders (wolfspider).”

Wolf spiders: Behavior, bites and other facts

A close-up photo of a wolf spider.

Wolf spiders are a family of mostly large, hairy and athletic arachnids. Rather than catching their prey in webs, wolf spiders chase it down similar to the way a wolf does, although these spiders hunt alone, not in packs.

There are nearly 2,400 wolf spider species across 125 genera, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (opens in new tab) (ITIS). They live around the world and are found throughout the U.S. Wolf spiders are especially common in grasslands and meadows, but they also live in mountains, deserts, rainforests and wetlands — anywhere they can find insects to eat, according to the University of Michigan’s BioKids (opens in new tab) website.

What do wolf spiders look like?

Wolf spiders are usually brown, gray, black or tan, with dark markings — most commonly stripes, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (opens in new tab) . Their coloring is effective camouflage, helping them catch their prey and hide from predators. Wolf spiders’ size varies, and their body lengths range from about a quarter of an inch (0.6 centimeter) to over an inch (3 cm) long, not including their legs. The Desertas wolf spider (Hogna ingens) from Deserta Grande Island in the Atlantic Ocean is one of the largest wolf spiders and has a leg span of 4.7 inches (12 cm), according to the Bristol Zoological Society (opens in new tab) in England. Female wolf spiders are typically larger than males.

Wolf spider taxonomy

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Arachnida

Order: Araneae

Family: Lycosidae

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,” said Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal, an arachnologist at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. (Sewlal spoke with Live Science in 2014 and died in 2020.) “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,” Sewlal said.

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Are wolf spiders dangerous?

Wolf spiders can bite if threatened, but their venom doesn’t pose a serious danger to humans. According to Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences (opens in new tab) , wolf spiders bite humans when they are mishandled or trapped next to the skin. Bite victims may exhibit some redness or swelling, but no serious medical problems caused by a wolf spider bite have ever been reported. However, wolf spider bites can be very painful, so these critters shouldn’t be picked up by hand, the University of Kentucky’s Department of Entomology (opens in new tab) notes.

Brown wolf spiders can be confused with more venomous brown recluse spiders, especially in houses. Fast-moving spiders on the ground are more likely to be wolf spiders, as brown recluse spiders are very rarely seen out in the open, according to the University of Kentucky. People can tell the spiders apart using size and banding patterns; wolf spiders are usually larger and have banding patterns on their legs, which are absent on brown recluse spiders. Anyone who has been bitten by a brown recluse spider should seek emergency medical attention, according to MedlinePlus (opens in new tab) , a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Habitat and feeding

Wolf spiders are solitary animals that typically roam alone in the night, stalking prey. They are “mostly nocturnal and often mistaken for tarantulas,” Sewlal said. These spiders spend most of their time on the ground, but they can climb trees or other objects if they need to. Their habitats include stream edges, gravel and low vegetation, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Wolf spiders sometimes find their way into houses, usually in basements, crawl spaces and breezeways after they enter near ground level, according to Michigan State University’s Plant & Pest Diagnostics (opens in new tab) .

Wolf spiders eat mostly ground-dwelling insects, such as crickets and other spiders. Large females may take on small amphibians and reptiles, according to BioKids. Some species chase down and seize their prey, while others wait for prey to walk by and then 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 and injecting their venom.

Wolf spiders use their keen eyesight, camouflage, speedy movements and high sensitivity to vibrations to help them avoid predators such as lizards, birds and hunting wasps. According to the Smithsonian (opens in new tab) , hunting wasps paralyze wolf spiders with a sting, drag them back to burrows and lay eggs in them so larvae hatching from the eggs have something to eat.

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Mating

Female wolf spiders leave scent markings so males can find them to mate. When a male locates a female, they perform a courtship ritual in which the male signals to the female by waving its legs and pedipalps (short, sensory appendages near their mouths), according to the Australian Museum (opens in new tab) in Sydney. After mating, female wolf spiders lay several dozen or more eggs and wrap them in silk, creating an egg sac.

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“Female wolf spiders carry their egg sacs attached to her spinnerets [at the tip of their abdomens where silk is produced],” Sewlal said. Mothers are known to exhibit aggressive behavior when carrying their egg sacs. They sometimes need to drop their egg sacs to more easily escape predators. If this happens, females will search furiously to find them again and may even pick up another wolf spider’s abandoned egg sac to care for. A 2021 study published in the journal Ethology (opens in new tab) found that Pardosa milvina, a common North American wolf spider, can recognize its own egg sacs and is less likely to pick up those of unrelated spiders when given a choice. However, the spiders in the study cared for unrelated eggs as if they were their own when they did pick them up.

Wolf spiders’ maternal behavior doesn’t stop with the egg sacs. “After hatching, the spiderlings climb on their mother’s back, and she carries them around for several days,” Sewlal said. After this, the spiderlings leave their mothers and go off alone. Male wolf spiders typically live for one year or less, while females can live for several years.

Additional resources

To see a size and visual comparison of wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders, check out this graphic from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (opens in new tab) , which highlights the differences between the two types of spider, as well as other species that can be confused with brown recluse spiders. To learn more about Desertas wolf spiders, a critically endangered species, and what Bristol Zoological Society and other groups are doing to save them, check out the organization’s Desertas Wolf Spider Conservation Strategy (opens in new tab) . To see how wolf spiders move, watch this short YouTube video by the Billings Gazette (opens in new tab) , a Montana-based newspaper.

Bibliography

Berry, A. D. & Rypstra, A. L. “Egg sac recognition and fostering in the wolf spider Pardosa milvina (araneae: lycosidae) and its effects on spiderling survival,” Ethology, Volume 127, Jan 29, 2021. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/eth.13134

BioKids, Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan, “Lycosidae,” 2001. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lycosidae/

Blake Newton, University of Kentucky Department of Entomology, “Wolf Spiders,” updated Jan. 30, 2008. https://www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/spiders/wolf/wolf.htm

College of Agricultural Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, “Wolf Spiders,” updated Dec. 10, 2018. https://extension.psu.edu/wolf-spiders

Medline Plus, National Library of Medicine, “Brown recluse spider,” updated Feb. 18, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002859.htm

Plant & Pest Diagnostics, Michigan State University, “Wolf Spider,” May 19, 2020. https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/wolf-spider

This article was originally published on Dec. 25, 2014. It was updated on March 7, 2022, by Live Science staff writer Patrick Pester.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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