|The wolf spider gets its name for the stealthy,
cunning way in which it hunts its prey Ė much in the same manner as the
wolf. Most spiders catch their prey by ambushing it in the silken webs
they spin on plants, trees, walls, and fences. Wolf spiders, instead, hunt
down and catch their prey with the help of their acute eyesight.
Habitat: Wolf spiders live successfully in a wide variety of habitats, where they are often the most dominant of the small predators. Their habitats include deserts, temperate and tropical forests, swamps, and mountains at lower elevations. Still, the habitat in which they are most commonly found is grassland, and they are especially abundant on the prairies of North America. As many as 18 species of wolf spider can sometimes be found in one area. Several of the most numerous species inhabit all parts of the wolf spiderís range and are particularly common in backyards. Others have a more limited range and may be found only on rocky coasts, sand dunes, or stony hilltops, in salt marshes, or near the edges of inland waterways.
Breeding: The male approaches the female cautiously, waving his front legs and the twin palps (sex organs) that are positioned in front of and below his head. This behavior enables the female to recognize him so that she does not mistake him for prey. If the female is receptive to his advances, she allows the male to climb on top of her. With his head facing her hind part, he inserts each palp alternately into her genital opening. During mating the female often continues to move around and catch prey with the male on her back.
Maternal Care: After mating, the female spider finds a safe spot and spins a silken pad. She defends her eggs on it and encases them in a spherical sac made of silk. She then attaches the sac to her silk producing organ, called a spinneret, where it remains for the two to three weeks until the eggs hatch. Throughout this period the female defends her eggs fiercely. The female senses when the eggs are ready to hatch and tears open the tough covering of the sac to release them. The tiny spiders spend their first few days on the motherís back, and she carries them everywhere. They do not feed during this time.
Food and Hunting: The wolf spider lies in wait for small insects and other spiders and pounces on its prey when it comes within reach. Holding its victim in its strong legs and grasping it between powerful jaws (chelicerae), the spider crushes the animal and feeds on its juices. Wolf spiders generally hunt in the daytime. At night they stay hidden in shallow burrows, where they are safe from predators. Some species spin silk to line their burrows, but unlike web spinning (orb) spiders, the wolf spider does not use its silk to trap prey.
Naturewatch: Wolf spiders are most active in the spring and summer and are easily seen at these times of the year. They like warmth and can be found on logs and stones in direct sun. Wolf spiders can also be observed during mating. The male is smaller than the female and waves his front legs to attract her. Female spiders can be seen carrying their conspicuous white egg sacs on the end of their abdomens. The eggs hatch quickly in warm weather, and young spiders can be seen clinging to their motherís back.
Features of the Wolf Spider: Two large upward pointing eyes. Two large forward looking eyes. Four small eyes in front see forward and slightly off to one side. Palps are the male sex organs. Chelicerae (jaws) used to crush prey. Front legs used to grip prey.
Did You Know: The hunting wasp stings and
paralyzes the wolf spider in its burrow, and leaves its own larvae behind
to feed on the dying spiderís body.
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