Fishing Spider vs. Wolf Spider: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: May 26, 2023
© Cornel Constantin/
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Key Points:

  • Wolf spiders’ eyes tend to be larger compared to that of fishing spiders, resulting in excellent vision for the former.
  • Wolf spiders are more likely to be found close to insects’ burrows or nests while fishing spiders are more likely to be found close to ponds.
  • Fishing spiders’ legs are long and suited for walking on water; wolf spiders’ legs are short, powerful, and stocky and suited for sprinting after prey.

Fishing spiders and wolf spiders have a lot of similarities. Most people that see one will often confuse it for the other. Of course, many people will assume the worst case, that it’s a wolf spider, despite those creatures not being particularly harmful to human beings. Still, if you have to tell these two creatures apart, then you need to know the differences between a fishing spider vs wolf spider.

We have compiled a list of the significant differences between these two spiders. You’ll learn how to tell these spiders apart with a glance. That way, you’ll know what kind of spider has welcomed itself into your home or is currently residing in an outbuilding on your property!

Comparing a Fishing Spider and a Wolf Spider

While wolf spiders and fishing spiders look like, they have key differences like the habitats they live in.


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Fishing SpiderWolf Spider
Length 0.35in – 1inch without legs
– Leg span measures between 4in and 5 in
Weight: less than 1oz
Length 0.25in-1.2in for body only
– Leg span measures about 4 in
Location– Found near bodies of water
– May wander into homes and outbuildings
– On land, near sources of prey
– In dark recesses of a home
– Tree hollows or other places that offer protection and a place to set an ambush.
Hunting Methods-Trichobothria, fine “hairs” on the spider’s legs
– The hairs are used to sense prey that the fishing spider will then pounce at and eat.
-Eyesight and speed  
Colors– Brown and gray
– Banded patterns on legs
– Light brown, dark brown, tan, or gray, sometimes with a stripe running down its back. – May have patterns on its body and legs
Leg Length-Very long leg to walk on water using surface tension– Short and stocky to help them catch prey
Eyes– Has eight eyes in two horizontal rows
– Four eyes on top and four eyes on bottom.
-Has eight eyes arranged in three horizontal rows:  two medium eyes, two large eyes eyes, and four small eyes on the bottom.
– Wolf spiders’ eyes are highly visible and centered in the head


The 6 Key Differences Between Fishing Spiders and Wolf Spiders

wolf spider with young on its back
A wolf spider will often carry its young on its back.

©Vinicius R. Souza/

The biggest differences between a fishing spider and a wolf spider are their colors, leg length, and eyes even though most people probably don’t want to get too close to their faces to see their eyes at first.

Although fishing spiders and wolf spiders can be brown and gray with banded leg colors, wolf spiders will often have a thick distinct stripe running down its body. That stripe can be a lighter color than the rest of the wolf spider, or it can be darker. The same is not found on a fishing spider.

Fishing spiders have longer legs than wolf spiders because of their need to walk on water. Lastly, fishing spiders have eight eyes in two horizontal rows with four eyes in each, but wolf spiders have eight eyes in three rows, with two eyes, then two larger eyes, then four small eyes. Wolf spiders’ eyes are very large compared with other spiders and helps them have great vision.

These key differences can help you identify the spiders quickly and easily.


The wolf spider can grow larger than the average fishing spider. Granted, the Dolomedes (fishing spider family) can vary in length, they average about 0.35 inches to 1 inch in body length without the addition of its leg length. Wolf spiders measure between 0.25 inches to 1.2 inch for their body length

When you factor in the leg length, fishing spiders are about the same size or longer than wolf spiders.


What Do Wolf Spiders Eat?
Some wolf spiders dig burrows. They hide in the burrow, and when an insect walks by, they pounce


Fishing spiders are found near water sources such as streams and ponds. Wolf spiders are most often found in dark recesses such as tree hollows or at the entry area of insect burrows where they can easily feed.

Both spiders sometimes become trapped indoors when they chase prey into a house, but it’s more likely that a wolf spider moves indoors and hunts in basements and other dark areas.

Hunting Methods

Fishing Spider vs Wolf Spider - Fishing Spider
Fishing spiders live near aquatic areas and hunt prey around the water.

©Frode Jacobsen/

The fishing spider hunts by using the hairs on its legs to detect prey, but wolf spiders use their eyes to find prey and their powerful legs to chase them down. Both creatures have trichobothria, the fine hairs on their legs that sense the world around them, but fishing spiders use them as their primary means of finding prey.  


What Do Wolf Spiders Eat?
This wolf spider has a stripe on its body but no banding on its legs.

© Jackson

Fishing spiders will often be brown and gray with banded patterns on their legs. Wolf spiders are usually light brown, dark brown, gray, or tan, and they frequently have a stripe running down their backs in a lighter or darker color. Wolf spiders may also have additional patterns on its body and legs.

Leg Length

The fishing spider has long legs that are used to walk on water using surface tension. Wolf spiders have short, stocky, and powerful legs that help them run down their prey.


What Do Wolf Spiders Eat?
Wolf spiders’ eyes are in three horizontal rows on the center of their heads.


All fishing spiders and wolf spiders have eight eyes, but they are arranged differently. Fishing spiders have eight eyes spread across two rows, four on top and four on the bottom.

Wolf spiders’ eyes are arranged in three horizontal rows and centered on the head. They contain two small eyes, two large eyes, and then another four eyes on the bottom. Wolf spiders’ eyes are very visible to humans since they are the primary means that wolf spiders use to identify their prey.

Fishing spiders and wolf spiders look somewhat alike, but you can tell them apart by learning their most obvious differences. In this case, look at the spiders’ size, location, colors, and leg length. These factors are the easiest and safest way to tell the two creatures apart.

Remember that neither the fishing spider nor the wolf spider wishes to be in your home most of the time. A wolf spider might have wandered into your home in search of food and then became trapped.

They’re excellent at killing pests for the short time they’ll stay in your home, and they pose a very small threat to humans since they would prefer to avoid being seen by humans at all. Instead of killing them, it’s a good idea to leave these spiders alone unless you have small children or pets that they could harm.

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About the Author

I've been a freelance writer since 2013, and I've written in a variety of niches such as managed service providers, animals, and retail distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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