Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: What Are The Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: October 17, 2022
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Over 40,000 species of spiders have been identified, and many of these creatures look alike. Most people are at least aware of black widows, brown recluses, and wolf spiders since they are large and frightening. That makes it easy to see one spider and confuse it for another. Today, we’re going to look at the parson spider vs wolf spider and show you how they are unique despite looking somewhat similar. By the time we’ve finished, you’ll know several different ways to tell these creatures apart from each other.

Comparing a Parson Spider and a Wolf Spider

The differences between a parson spider and a wolf spider includes size and appearance.
Parson SpiderWolf Spider
Size– 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch-body
– 3/4-inch legspan
– 1/4 to 1 3/8-inch body
– 2-4 inches in legspan
Markings– Black cephalothorax and abdomen
– Black bands near the body but mostly brown on the lower portion of the legs
– White marking that resembles a parson’s cravat, a type of neckband, on their abdomen
– Often has a light-colored marking on their cephalothorax.
– Brown-gray body, but can be other colors
– Typically have a light-colored body with dark bands running from front to back on the cephalothorax
– Light-colored bands between the eyes and on the outside
– Dark brown marking on the abdomen
Eye Arrangement– Has three rows of eyes
– Two large eyes, four medium eyes, and then two small eyes
– Often three rows of eyes
– Two eyes on top, two eyes in the middle, four eyes on the bottom
– Eyes on the top are the largest
– Eyes in the middle are medium-sized
– Eyes on the bottom are small
Morphology– Large spinnerets
– Hairy body    
– Hairy body
– Has three large tarsal claws
– Lacks exaggerated spinnerets
– Carry their young on their backs
SpeciesHerpyllus ecclesiasticus– Lycosidae family
– Many genera and species
Hogna carolinensis is one of the largest

The 5 Key Differences Between a Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider

The greatest differences between a parson spider and a wolf spider can be found in their size and markings. Wolf spiders are larger than parson spiders because they have bodies that measure between 1/4 inch and 1 3/8 inches long while having a legspan of 2 to 4 inches while parson spiders have bodies that measure 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch long while having a total legspan of up to 3/4 of an inch.

The parson spider is known for its white abdomen marking that resembles a cravat, a type of neckband worn by clergy in the past. Generally, wolf spiders have light brown, gray, or darker bodies that have two dark bands running from their eyes to the back of their cephalothorax with a light band between them along with a dark marking in the center of their abdomen.

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Of course, wolf spiders can have many other different markings because the Lycosidae family is so large. These differences can help you tell the two spiders apart at a glance, but several other differences can be found between these creatures.

Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: Size

The wolf spider is larger than the parson spider.

©iStock.com/CathyKeifer

Wolf spiders are larger than parson spiders. The largest wolf spiders have a total legspan of between 2 and 4 inches, far larger than the 3/4-inch legspan of the parson spider. Furthermore, the body size of the wolf spider is much larger than the parson spider.

A wolf spider’s body can measure between 1/4 inch to 1 3/8 inch, though the latter is a size seen only in females. Parson spiders can measure between 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in body size. Thus, if you see a spider that is larger than an inch, it’s more likely a wolf spider than a parson spider.

Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: Markings

Eastern Parson Spider (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus)

You can see a light band on the abdomen of the parson spider.

©Fyn Kynd/Flickr – License

Parson spiders have a very distinct abdominal marking compared to wolf spiders. When you see a parson spider’s abdomen, you’ll see a light-colored, often white, marking that resembles a cravat, a type of neckband that was once worn by clergymen. That is the source of the “parson” in the parson spider’s name.

Parson spiders also have a light-colored band running down their cephalothorax, and that makes people confuse them for wolf spiders.

Wolf spiders come in many different colors and have some unique markings between species. Generally speaking, though, you will find that wolf spiders have two bands of color that start in the front of the cephalothorax, run over their eyes, and go toward the abdomen.

Between those bands is a light-colored section. The outside of those dark bands is also light in color. The abdomen of a wolf spider can have many appearances, but it’s not unusual to see a dark band of color running the length of the abdomen. Some species have a mottled abdomen, though.

Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: Eye Arrangement

Both parson spiders and wolf spiders have eight eyes arranged in three rows. However, the wolf spider has two large eyes on top, two medium eyes in the middle, and four small eyes on the bottom. Meanwhile, the parson spider has two large eyes on top, four medium eyes in the middle, and two small eyes on the bottom.  

You probably won’t get close enough to these spiders to see their eyes, but it can help you tell them apart.

Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: Morphology

Parson spiders and wolf spiders have some unique elements of their morphology even though they are both hairy spiders. For example, parson spiders have large, obvious spinnerets at the end of their abdomens, but wolf spiders do not. Wolf spiders have three large tarsal claws on the end of their feet, but parson spiders do not.

Lastly, although it’s not a morphological trait, the presence of young on the wolf spider sets it apart from many other types. Wolf spiders will carry an egg sac on their abdomens, and then they will carry the hatchlings on their backs for several days. Parson spiders are not known for doing that.

Between the size of the spiders’ bodies and the slight morphological differences, it’s easy to differentiate these spiders.

Parson Spider vs Wolf Spider: Species

ground wolf spider

Wolf spiders belongs to the Lycosidae family.

©Lukas Jonaitis/Shutterstock.com

Lastly, the parson spider and wolf spider are different species, and the two spiders are from different families. The wolf spider belongs to the Lycosidae family, but the parson spider belongs to the Gnaphosidae family.

The eastern parson spider’s species is Herpyllus ecclesiasticus. A good representative of the wolf spider species is the Hogna carolinensis, or the Carolina wolf spider.

All told, the wolf spider and the parson spider are very unique creatures. They can resemble one another at a glance due to the light coloration running down the middle of their bodies. However, morphological elements, coloration, size, and eye arrangement are easy ways to tell them apart.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/CathyKeifer


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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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Sources
  1. PennState Extension (1970) extension.psu.edu/parson-spider
  2. Missouri Department of Conservation (1970) mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/wolf-spiders
  3. ScienceDirect (1970) sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003347204003495