Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse: Five Main Differences Explained

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: January 2, 2022
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All spiders are poisonous (actually venomous), but there are few, at least in North America, that have venom powerful enough to injure a human. One of them is the brown recluse spider, whose venom can be fatal. Ironically, the fangs of this spider are so small that they can’t really bite through clothing. The bite of the wolf spider can cause pain and swelling but isn’t life-threatening. There are also other differences between the Wolf Spider and Brown Recluse. Here are a few:

Comparing Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse

Here is a table of facts that shows some of the differences between a wolf spider and a brown recluse spider.

Wolf Spider Brown Recluse
Size0.04 to 1.5 inches0.24 to 0.79 inches
VenomNot dangerousPotentially dangerous
HabitatWoods, forests, meadows, etc.Human habitation
BehaviorCan be aggressiveShy, reclusive
RangeWorldwideMidwestern to Southern U.S.
ColorsGray, brown, black, buffBrown

The Five Key Differences Between Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse

1. Body Type

One way of identification of the brown recluse spider is to count its eyes. It can be easily told from the wolf spider, indeed, from most other spiders, in that it has six eyes. Most other spiders have eight. The brown recluse’s eyes are about the same size and come in pairs arranged on its head. Identification of the wolf spider can also be achieved through looking at its eyes. It is famous for the pair of huge eyes in the middle of its face. There are four below it in a line and two above it. These eyes give the spider superb vision. The vision of the brown recluse is probably not very good.

The brown recluse also holds its long legs crabwise, while the wolf spider splays its legs out like most other spiders. With close to 3000 species, wolf spiders come in many sizes and color patterns. The colors are usually earth-toned, for the spider is part of the diet of many larger animals and needs to stay camouflaged as it searches for prey. The brown recluse is light brown and often has a violin-shaped mark on its cephalothorax. This gives it the alternate name of fiddleback or violin spider. Brown recluse spiders are usually between 0.24 to 0.79 inches long, while the length of a wolf spider ranges from between 0.04 to 1.5 inches.

2. Habitat

Wolf spiders are found all over the world save the coldest places. Their habitats include forests, woods, coastal areas, mountains, human habitations, meadows and gardens. They don’t spin webs but some dig burrows or create turrets that they protect with pebbles or trap doors. Brown recluse spiders are found in the United States from Nebraska down to Texas and east to Georgia and Kentucky. They spin messy webs in secret places such as garages, closets, basements and sheds. They seem especially fond of living beneath cardboard. People get bitten when they reach a hand into some dark corner and frighten the spider.

3. Reproduction

Both wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders have courtship rituals, and the rituals of some wolf spider species can be elaborate. Wolf spiders are unique among spiders in that the females carry their egg case in their spinnerets. When the eggs hatch, the babies climb on her back and hang on as she moves from place to place. Eventually, they disperse by releasing a strand of silk and letting it form a type of parachute that takes them away on the wind. Brown recluse spiders also produce an egg sac, and the mother sometimes carries it or hangs it on her web or on a plant. When the spiderlings hatch they stay in the egg sac until their first molt. Unlike wolf spiders, they don’t ride their mother’s back or travel from place to place via ballooning.

4. Behavior

Brown recluse spiders are shy and retiring, and they spend the day in a quiet place and come out at night to hunt. Like most other spiders, their diet largely consists of insects, including those that are household pests such as cockroaches. Poisonous olf spiders can be aggressive even towards humans, and one species is so aggressive that its name is Rabidosa rabida. While some wolf spiders sit and wait for potential prey to come within striking distance, others stalk then pounce on them like wolves. Some hunt during the day, while others rest during the day and hunt at night like the brown recluse.

5. Name

Wolf spiders belong to the Lycosidae family. Lykos is Greek for “wolf.” Besides 2888 species, there are 124 genera. The brown recluse belongs to the Loxosceles genus, and Loxosceles is Greek for “slanting legs.” There are 11 species of Loxosceles spiders found in the United States.

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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What spiders can be mistaken for a brown recluse?

One spider that’s often mistaken for a brown recluse is the huntsman spider, which holds its legs crabwise like the recluse. However, some facts about these spiders are that have eight eyes and can grow larger than the brown recluse, and like the brown recluse, they like to hide in dark and quiet places. Armed with potent venom, the bite of these poisonous spiders may need medical attention.

Do brown recluse spiders kill wolf spiders?

Wolf spiders are generally not part of the brown recluse’s diet. Wolf spiders are often bigger than brown recluse spiders, and though spiders have been known to eat each other, be they conspecifics or members of other species, these two spiders appear to steer clear of each other.

How do I identify a wolf spider?

Identification of a wolf spider can be easy if you can get close enough to it. They are often of neutral colors such as brown or gray, and some have stripes. Many are large for spiders. But the surest way to identify a wolf spider is to notice the huge anterior median eyes in its face. Jumping spiders also have these big eyes, but they are much smaller, and their legs tend to be shorter.