Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse: Five Main Differences Explained

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: November 13, 2022
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Key Points

  • It is easy to tell the two spiders apart. If it is small-sized with 6 eyes, chances are it’s a brown recluse. Wolf spiders have 8 eyes and are larger.
  • The two spiders live in different environments. Wolf spiders prefer to live alone in the wild, while brown recluse spiders prefer to live near human habitation.
  • The two spiders behave differently. Brown recluse spiders are shy and come out at night to hunt. Wolf spiders are more aggressive, preferring to stalk their prey like a wolf.

Almost all spiders are 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. So, the wolf spider and brown recluse are quite different.

People bitten by a brown recluse should seek emergency medical attention, as the bites can cause necrotic skin lesions and lead to serious reactions, especially in children. After treatment by a doctor, they heal nicely, with the use of ice, rest, compression, and elevation. A brown recluse bite is not as life-threatening as a Black Widow bite, but you should definitely seek treatment immediately.

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. There are also other differences between the wolf spider and brown recluse. Let’s take a look at some of them.

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.

Traits 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
Species2888One
RangeWorldwideMidwestern to Southern U.S.
WebNoYes
ColorsGray, brown, black, buffBrown

The Five Key Differences Between Wolf Spider vs Brown Recluse

1. Body Type

Brown recluse spider
The brown recluse spider is often identified by the violin-shaped marking on its body.

Nick626/Shutterstock.com

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 presence of eyes which are about the same size and come in pairs arranged on its head, means the arachnid is most likely a brown recluse. Wolf spiders have a pair of huge eyes in the middle of their faces with four others below it in a line and two more 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

Male wolf spider
Male wolf spider, Alopecosa inquilina on lichen

Henrik Larsson/Shutterstock.com

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. Wolf spiders can be aggressive even toward 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 and 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. Toxicity

Both brown recluse and wolf spiders have venom that can affect humans. The neurotoxins in wolf spider venom are considered mild and hardly ever causes a reaction more pronounced than some localized pain and swelling in humans. Brown recluse spiders have extremely potent venom that can cause a variety of different reactions in humans, producing symptoms ranging from painful ulcers at the wound site to months-long tissue necrosis.

Brown recluse bites almost never result in death, though secondary complications like infection are also a concern. Most severe reactions to brown recluse venom occurs in children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Wolf spiders aren’t deadly, so unless you have an allergy to the venom, a wolf spider bite should heal on its own in a few days with little to no complications.

Next Up:

Brown Recluse vs Wolf Spider
Brown Recluse vs Wolf Spider
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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

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.

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