- Wolf spiders are common garden spiders in Australia, often mistaken for huntsmen and disliked by arachnophobes.
- They are venomous but not highly dangerous to humans, causing mild symptoms such as swelling and itching.
- Wolf spiders are fast-moving hunters with excellent eyesight.
- Female wolf spiders show unique parental behaviour, carrying their eggs and spiderlings on their backs.
- They can be found worldwide, excluding arctic regions and underwater, with the garden wolf spider being common in Australia.
The wolf spider is one of the more common garden spiders in Australia. They’re often mistaken for huntsmen, and are hated by arachnophobes for all the same reasons – they’re quite large, hard to spot, fast moving, and often show up in people’s houses. Many Australians have suffered a wolf spider bite from putting their hand in a dark corner of the house or garden without thinking.
But how dangerous are wolf spiders? Are they venomous? Can a wolf spider bite kill you, and do we need to hunt them down and squash them wherever possible?
What Is A Wolf Spider?
Let’s start with the basics. A “wolf spider” is actually a variety of related spider species, all of which go by the same title. The wolf spider gets its rather cool sounding name from the fact that rather than spinning webs, they run down their prey – like wolves do. Although unlike wolves, they’re solitary hunters (so perhaps “leopard spider” would have been a more appropriate name). For this reason, they’re also one of the fastest moving spiders – up to around 60cm per second. They also have superb eyesight to spot and chase prey.
Wolf spiders are generally nocturnal hunters – they like to find a safe hole to hide in during the day and then go out roaming and hunting once it gets dark.
One of the distinctive features of the wolf spider is the females are rather dedicated parents. Female wolf spiders create a special sac for their eggs, which they sling around their hindquarters to carry along with them (rather than finding a spot to hide them, as many spiders do). Once the eggs hatch, the young spiders climb up onto the back of the mother, where they’ll stay for several weeks as they grow, the mother carrying them and protecting them. This is quite unusual for spiders.
Once they’re a little more grown, the spiders will leave home – sometimes on foot, but often by using a trick called ballooning, where the young spider lets out a line of silk which the wind then catches, carrying the spider far away to another location.
Is The Wolf Spider Australia Specific?
No. Wolf spiders can be found throughout the world, in most climates except the arctic and under the sea. Of course, some species of wolf spiders are more numerous in different parts of the world.
Of the various species of wolf spider Australia has to offer, probably the most common is the garden wolf spider, or Tasmanicosa godeffroyi. This species is native to Australia, and if you’ve encountered a wolf spider around your home it’s most likely this one. They’re common in most of the capital cities and heavily populated regions of Australia, with the possible exception of Darwin.
What Does A Wolf Spider Look Like?
Tasmanicosa godeffroyi – one of the most common species of wolf spider Australia has to offer.
Wolf spiders vary somewhat in appearance from species to species, but there are common features. The wolf spider hunts and survives using camouflage, so they’re generally grey or brown to blend in with tree bark and leaf litter. They also often have stripes along their body and radiating out from the centre of their back – which, apart from looking quite aesthetic, also serves to break up their outline at a distance and make it harder to tell what you’re looking at.
The garden wolf spider has an hourglass-shaped body and abdomen, with eight legs radiating out from the centre of the body.
Most wolf spiders have particularly large eyes, and one unusual quality of the species is that their eyes are quite reflective – so at night, you can sometimes spot them by the reflected glow from their eyes.
Wolf spiders are often mixed up with huntsmen spiders due to being similar in size and colour, and moving at a similar speed. You don’t always get a clear look at a wolf spider long enough to note its markings.
Wolf Spider Size
Wolf spiders are one of the larger species of common Australian spider – much to the regret of arachnophobes. Female wolf spiders can get up to 35mm in length (males up to 20mm) – making them about the size of your palm, legs included. Despite this, wolf spiders can compact their bodies and fit into very small holes – which they often use as burrows.
This means that Wolf Spiders can move around 20 times their body length every second, equivalent to a human running at around 130kph!
Wolf Spider VS Huntsman
The huntsmen (top) and the
wolf spider (bottom)
Despite some similarities, when examined more closely the wolf spider and the huntsman are not hard to tell apart. The huntsman is generally plain in colour without stripes or markings, and its legs are angled so they reach around to the front of the spider, giving them a crab-like appearance. The huntsman also generally appears wider than it is long, with a squat body and a longer abdomen.
The wolf spider, by contrast, generally has striped markings on its body and a longer, more streamlined appearance. Its legs generally spread out in an oval (longer than it is wide) and are not angled. The wolf spider looks like it moves fast.
Wolf spiders also don’t get quite as large as huntsmen – some of which can be almost the size of your hand. Some rare huntsmen species (fortunately found only in Laos) can be the size of a dinner plate!
Wolf spiders don’t get much bigger than your palm, so you never need to worry about encountering a giant wolf spider in your travels.
Where Will I Find Wolf Spiders?
For the wolf spider, Australia is a great environment. Lots of scrubland with plenty of hiding places for the day and plenty of bugs at night. But although Wolf Spiders may be found throughout much of southern Australia, you generally don’t need to travel much further than the garden to find one. Wolf spiders are a common sight on many suburban properties in Australia.
Being nocturnal hunters, wolf spiders are most active at night when they’re out prowling for bugs and small animals. With their camouflage, they can be exceptionally hard to spot at night, although if you shine a torch on an area of grass or scrub where they’re hiding, they can sometimes be spotted by the reflection from their distinctively large eyes.
During the day, they’re generally harder to find, as they prefer to take shelter in a hole or burrow. But it’s not unusual for people to accidentally unearth one when digging in the garden or putting fingers into a small hollow (such as a bin handle) without checking first. This is also the most common scenario for a wolf spider bite.
Wolf Spider Hole
Most types of Australian wolf spider prefer to have a burrow of some kind. For many species, this will be an established nest which the spider returns to each day. For some species, this will be a carefully prepared nest with a woven silk hatch to hide the entrance and an l-bend halfway down to allow the spider to hide from predators – but this varies from species to species.
The “House” Wolf Spider
Unfortunately for many Arachnophobes, it’s not uncommon for wolf spiders to find their way inside the house. This might be because they’re seeking out a good place to hide during the day, or because they’re hunting the bugs that live inside.
Although it’s not their natural environment, wolf spiders can often survive very well inside – finding dark, forgotten corners to hide in by day and then roaming the house at night to hunt. And while some might find this an alarming idea, it’s often not a bad idea to leave them be. Wolf spiders don’t make webs, and they hunt many pest species – such as flies, ants, and many other spiders. And although they will bite to defend themselves, they are generally regarded as being very little threat to humans.
Is A Wolf Spider Bite Life-threatening?
Normally, no. While wolf spiders have venom that can help them subdue or kill smaller animals, it’s normally quite ineffective against humans. A wolf spider bite can cause swelling around the wound, itching, and some pain, but generally no more than that.
In a few cases, a wolf spider bite can potentially cause anaphylaxis (the most extreme form of allergic reaction), and this can potentially be life-threatening. For this reason, it’s generally wise to observe the victim of a wolf spider bite closely for a few hours, to watch for signs of an allergic reaction.
First Aid For A Wolf Spider Bite
Normally, treatment for a wolf spider bite is mostly a matter of managing the discomfort from the bite. Wash the bite to lessen the chance of infection. Then use an ice pack on the bite to reduce the swelling and relieve any pain. Over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol can also help to ease symptoms. And continue to observe the victim over the next few hours for any signs of an allergic or anaphylactic reaction.
If you see any of the warning signs of anaphylaxis (such as tightness or swelling in the throat, swelling of the tongue, or difficulty breathing) from someone who’s suffered a wolf spider bite, you should dial 000 immediately to call for help.
If you’re not confident of recognising the warning signs of an anaphylactic reaction or knowing what to do if one occurs, you can give yourself peace of mind by planning ahead and investing a day or so in doing an accredited first aid course. These cover a wide variety of common injuries and illnesses – including bites and stings – and cover complications like anaphylaxis. There are normally a range of training options in your area, and the cost of the course can be less than the cost of a full tank of petrol, nowadays.
What To Do About A Wolf Spider
The easiest solution to having a wolf spider around the house is to leave them be. They generally stay out of site when they can, and they hunt down bugs and creepy crawlies that you’d probably prefer to see the back of.
If that’s not an option, you may need to figure out how to get rid of it. Bug spray is not always remarkably effective on wolf spiders – which are large, robust, and can use the hairs on their body to protect themselves from the poison. Trying to crush or step on them may also be difficult, given how fast they are – and there’s a chance of getting bitten in the process as the spider tries to defend itself.
Ultimately, you’re often better off simply putting a container over the spider, slipping something under the container to trap the spider in, and then taking the whole lot outside for release. It means the spider can go back to hunting bugs in your garden (or further away if you prefer), and you can go on with your day. Although, of course, it’s generally best to get someone without a fear of spiders to do the deed.
Are Wolf Spiders Poisonous In Australia?
Wolf spider bites typically result in mild symptoms, similar to those caused by other spider bites, and do not seem to lead to necrotic ulcers. The effects are likely a result of physical injury, although minor localised venomous reactions may occur with Tasmanicosa bites.
Are Wolf Spiders Australian?
Wolf Spiders can be found across Australia. These spiders are strong and nimble predators, residing on the ground amidst leaf debris or in burrows.
Is A Wolf Spider The Same As A Huntsman?
Wolf Spiders share many similarities with Huntsman spiders. Like Huntsman spiders, they are active, nocturnal hunters known for their swift movements. These spiders are distributed throughout Australia and are commonly found in areas with moss and decomposing ground materials.
How Do You Get Rid Of Wolf Spiders In Australia?
To manage wolf spiders in outdoor areas, it is recommended to take certain measures. These include clearing away debris, trimming tall grasses, and applying a reliable insecticide to your lawn and landscape.
How Common Are Wolf Spiders in Australia?
Wolf spiders in Australia have a broad distribution throughout the country. They are frequently encountered in residential backyards, seeking refuge in leaf litter or burrows that may or may not have a trapdoor constructed from various materials like pebbles and twigs. Female wolf spiders exhibit the unique behaviour of carrying their egg sacs on their abdomens until the eggs hatch.
Wolf Spider Bite
When a wolf spider bites, it typically injects venom into its prey or as a defensive mechanism. While wolf spider bites are not usually considered dangerous to humans, they can cause localised symptoms such as pain, redness, swelling, and itching. These symptoms are generally mild and subside within a few days without requiring medical treatment. However, individuals who experience severe or persistent symptoms should seek medical attention. It’s important to note that proper identification of the spider is crucial, as some spiders may have similar appearances but different levels of venom toxicity.