Wolf spider and offspring

I guess I hadn’t realized that wolf spiders schlep their young around on their backs. But the ever-reliable Wikipedia (Greg will dissent, and is preparing a post on the iniquities of Wikipedia) says this:

Wolf spiders are unique in the way that they carry their eggs. The egg sac, a round silken globe, is attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, allowing the spider to carry her unborn young with her. The abdomen must be held in a raised position to keep the egg case from dragging on the ground, however despite this handicap they are still capable of hunting. Another aspect unique to wolf spiders is their method of infant care. Immediately after the spiderlings emerge from their protective silken case, they clamber up their mother’s legs and crowd onto her abdomen.

Reader Laurel Yohe, a graduate student in ecology and evolution at the State University of New York, sent this photo and a note. Do enlarge it (preferably twice) to see the gazillion baby spiders.

Any help with the identification appreciated:

I saw this mother wolf spider running around my yard in Stony Brook, NY. At first I thought it was eggs she was carrying on her back–but after I took the photo I saw all of her little babies. They are too cute for words. Not sure of the species, any taxonomists out there able to help identify? Taken on June 2, 2013 (around 10AM) in my backyard with Nikon D5100 AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G (ISO 200 f/8 1/250). Be sure to look at it in full screen!


UPDATE: Reader Al Denelsbeck, a nature photographer who has his own website (Wading-In Photography), sent two pictures of wolf spiders as well; the first shows one carrying her egg case on a raised abdomen (see above); the second shows another passel of offspring.  These were taken in Hillsborough, North Carolina:




  1. Posted June 14, 2013 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    A note: if Greg has a post on the iniquities of Wikipedia, as a long-time Wikipedia volunteer I may be able to help reply to issues (specific or broad).

    • Posted June 14, 2013 at 5:00 am | Permalink

      Yay! I hope Greg’s complaint is not based on the fact that Wikipedia is a wiki which is like blaming an apple for being a fruit.

    • SA Gould
      Posted June 14, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Just for Greg, or do you have help line for anyone who has trouble with Wiki whenever they try to add something to it?

      • Posted June 14, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        I could probably answer questions, yeah. Note that I’m just some guy, so my answers may be infuriatingly unhelpful at times.

  2. Siegfried Gust
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    There’s a good BBC video on YouTube about wolf spiders

  3. JBlilie
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    Very cool, thanks for sharing.

    My strongest memory of a wolf spider (we have loads of them around here) is this: As a child, my parents had an old trailer (house) parked at a lake. It was full of mice, spiders, etc. My mother asked me to swat a very large wolf spider (in the sink). This spider had a leg-spread of at least 2-1/2 inches (biggest one I’ve ever seen).

    When I swatted at it, it (I shit you not!) leapt into my hair. My hands never moved faster in my life!

    • darrelle
      Posted June 14, 2013 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      Adrenalin is amazing stuff. I too once had an extremely exciting spider encounter when I was younger.

    • Davey Baird
      Posted June 14, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      When I was young I had no fear of spiders and regularly picked them up. As I was in Ireland there was no reason to fear anyway.
      That was until I found this particularly large one in grassland. It was so beautiful I just had to pick it up. Then it bit me. It wasn’t able to really pierce my skin but I could see the fangs in my skin and feel the pressure as it tried. Starting somewhere in my spine I had a convulsive spasm, with my ams flailing to fling the spider away. As I recall it, one part of me was fascinated even with its attempts to bite and even just as fascinated by the very visceral revulsion and loss of control of my body that flung the spider away.

  4. bacopa
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    I never thought there could be any sort of spider related squee, yet here it is.

    I also believe that wolf spiders can recognize human faces. Maybe not specific human faces, but they have sometimes looked into my eyes and waved their arms at me.

  5. darrelle
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Very nice picture!

  6. BilBy
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    I like spiders, but when checking pitfalls for lizards in southern USA we used to get some very large wolf spiders with babies on their back and that moving mass writhing away gave me the creeps. Also, we had to put a long leaf or stick in for them to climb out of the trap – picking them up, even gently, meant a mini explosion of baby spiderlings and I have no idea if that meant death for the young ones forced to leave mum too soon. I am in ecclesiastical company though – in Europe there is the ‘Cardinal Wolsey Spider’, named after Henry VIII’s advisor, scared by a large spider.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 14, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      From The Life of Spinoza, Colerus (1705):-

      …When he
      happen’d to be tired by having applyed himself too much to his Philosophical Meditations, he went down Stairs to refresh himself, and discoursed with the people of the House about any thing, that might afford Matter for an ordinary Conversation, and even about trifles. He also took Pleasure in smoaking a Pipe of Tobacco; or, when he had a
      mind to divert himself somewhat longer, he look’d for some Spiders, and made ‘em fight together, or he threw some Flies into the Cobweb, and was so well pleased with that Battel, that he wou’d sometimes break into Laughter.

  7. Posted June 14, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    I asked a colleague here who is a spider taxonomist (Gergin Blagoev). Here his answer:
    The spider is definitely from the genus Pardosa, and it’s likely Pardosa hyperborea (family Lycosidae – wolf spiders)

  8. Posted June 14, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    The most enjoyable description of wolf spider maternal behavior comes from the “Homer of the Insects,” Jean-Henri Fabre:


    Note: Wolf spiders aren’t tarantulas, even though they’re big and hairy. Tarantulas are mygalomorphs, while wolf spiders are araneomorphs. Those are two different infraorders. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s interesting that there are about 3000 species of mygalomorphs, but more than 35,000 species of araneomorphs. The araneomorphs can produce major ampullate silk (“dragline silk”); the mygalomorphs can’t. Yet another example of “why evolution is true”!

    • lkr
      Posted June 14, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Just to keep it confusing, “tarantula” was first applied to large wolf spiders, in particular Lycosa tarantula, in the Taranto region of southern Italy. There’s well-known folkloric connection to this species that includes dance and manic arachnophobia.

      Transfer to specifying large mygalomorphs as “tarantulacame later. So just another reason to avoid common names and to use taxonomic names when possible.

      • Posted June 14, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Exactly, lkr. The naming of wolf spiders involves another confusion: I’ve read that they were given this name because people used to believe that they hunt in packs.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      I recently developed an infatuation with spiders. After reading “Spiders: Learning to Love Them” by Lynne Kelly, I listened to Fabre’s book (available for free at librivox.org). Yes, his description of the wolf spider mother, and the experiments he did to see how rigorous her maternal behavior is, are really very interesting.

  9. Jones
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Because of the wolf spider’s habit of carrying around its eggs (and babies), the Japanese word for
    ‘wolf spider’ is コモリグモ (komorigumo), which means ‘childcare spider’ or ‘babysitter spider’.

    • Posted June 14, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      And, aaaaarrrggghhh, I didn’t think that would happen. Apologies.

  10. Posted June 14, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Love wolf spiders. Don’t want ’em crawling on me, but love ’em just the same.

  11. coyotenose
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I first learned that wolf spider babies cling to their mothers when a momma spider fell into a swimming pool while I was in it.

    I got so, so, so many baby spiders on me. Holy shit but I got a lot of spiders on me.

  12. nashuagoats
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I just saw a wolf spider covered in her babies in Ontario. I posted a photo here http://www.nashturley.org/2013/06/14/mother-wolf-spider-covered-in-her-babies/

  13. nashuagoats
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Neat! I just saw a wolf spider covered in babies in Ontario. I posted the photo here: http://www.nashturley.org/2013/06/14/mother-wolf-spider-covered-in-her-babies/

  14. Posted June 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    The Lycosidae are wonderful animals – I’ve done some work on life-history & ecology of a few species of Pardosa, particularly from northern regions of Canada. Females tend to carry egg sacs for 10+ days, and there are some studies (from Europe if memory serves) that suggest females move to higher ground to sun their egg sacs to speed up development. I have certainly seen this in some habitats where females will seek sunny-sides of logs, etc. (but move away quickly if a shadow passes over). Females can (if the season is long enough) produce >1 egg sac (some good Qs here about whether there is sperm preference etc and to what degree/how long sperm can be stored).

    After the young hatch from the egg sac (sometime the mother helps with this), the young spiders (spiderlings) move to the abdomen where they will cling on for ~ 10 days or so before the spiderlings begin to disperse. It is believed that most wolf spider 1st instars don’t eat as they have enough reserves from the yolk, etc. Their dispersal is likely just before they moult to the next instar, and before they get hungry. The dispersal is therefore likely a strategy in part to avoid cannibalism (which itself is very common with wolf spiders), including potential cannibalism by the mother. Dispersal is rapid – via running as well as ballooning, and when they do start feeding, it’s on other smaller arthropods (including other spiders, including their siblings). I’ve documented strong effect of spiderlings on collembola in some forest systems, and David Wise and his students have documented similar effects in a range of other habitats. It’s not clear how many instars wolf spiders go through to reach maturity – likely 5-7 or so for some species.

    As I said… amazing animals!

  15. Colin
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I remember spotting countless wolf spiders in Costa Rica. They are actually easier to find at night time, because their eyes reflect light in a very pretty and obvious way. We would don a head lamp, and the number of wolf spiders surrounding us was astonishing. I came across a mother wolf spider carrying offspring on her back as the photos above depict. However, with my head lamp, every baby spiders’ eyes were also reflecting light, and it looked as though the mother’s abdomen was a brilliant disco ball. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Quite memorable. Thought I’d share.

  16. Thanny
    Posted June 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I recently tilled about a quarter acre with my tractor and rototiller, and when going around afterwards collecting the large rocks, I saw tons of wolf spiders scurrying away from the carnage, most of them carrying egg sacs. They aren’t especially small.

  17. marksolock
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  2. […] love for wolf spiders on Why Evolution is True. Yes, Lycosidae females are remarkable in carrying wee spiderlings around on their […]

  3. […] the young wolf spiders (called 'spiderlings') hatch, the crawl upon their mother's abdomen, and she carries them around for a while before they disperse off their mother's […]

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