Wolf Spider vs Tarantula: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: February 9, 2022
Image Credit Will E. Davis/Shutterstock.com
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Wolf spiders and tarantulas are both maligned and feared throughout the world. Aside from being arachnids that are already frightening to look at, both spiders have a reputation for being venomous and dangerous. However, that’s not exactly true; both spiders are barely dangerous to human beings, causing about as much damage as a bee sting. Yet, it can be helpful to know the differences between a wolf spider vs tarantula so you understand what kind of spider is living in or near your home.

We’re going to take a look at the most significant differences between these two spiders. That way, you know what you’re looking at, whether they pose a danger to your or your pets, and what methods of extermination you should consider.  

Comparing a Wolf Spider and a Tarantula

Wolf Spider vs Tarantula
Wolf spiders and tarantulas are two of the most feared spiders, but they have key differences that set them apart.

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Wolf SpiderTarantula
SizeWeight: less than 1oz
Length 0.25in-1.2in for body only, length increases with legs
Weight: 0.5oz-3oz
Length 2in to 4.5in
Trichobothria, (elongated setae) AKA hairs– Short hairs cover its body-Medium-length hairs that can act as barbs
– These hairs are used as auxiliary senses.
Patterns– May have several patterns on it, including a stripe down its back.– No patterns
Color– Light brown, gray, tan– Dark brown or black but they can also be blue, green, red, and more.
Eyes-Has eight eyes arranged in three horizontal rows:  two medium eyes, two large eyes, and four small eyes.
– Wolf spiders’ eyes are visible
– Eyes are often covered by hair – Has two rows of eyes with four eyes and then two eyes below.
–  Two eyes on the side of the head
Fang Position-Araneomorphs: fangs facing forward like pincers– Mygalomorphs: fangs facing downwards
Number of tarsal claws-Three tarsal claws– One tarsal claw

The 7 Key Differences Between Wolf Spider vs Tarantula

Tarantula Enclosures
Tarantulas are bigger, hairier, and come in a variety of colors compared with the wolf spider.

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Although it’s easy to confuse a wolf spider for a tarantula and vice versa, the fact is that they have several differences. The greatest differences between wolf spiders and tarantulas are the spider’s size, the length of their hair, and the color of the spiders.

In short, wolf spiders are smaller than tarantulas and they have shorter hairs on their body than tarantulas. Also, wolf spiders are light brown while tarantulas are dark brown, black, and other colors.

Wolf spiders are a lot smaller than tarantula. Tarantulas’ bodies can measure between 2 inches and four inches, and they’re even bigger when you measure from leg to leg. Wolf spiders are a mere 1.2 inches long at maximum.

The setae on wolf spiders are short and fine; they won’t stick out too much because wolf spiders rely on their eyes to see. Tarantulas have longer hair than wolf spiders. Lastly, wolf spiders tend to be light brown, but tarantulas are dark brown and black, and they might integrate other colors depending on the species.

Wolf Spider vs Tarantula: Size

Wolf spiders are smaller than tarantulas. Wolf spiders weigh less than 1oz and only grow up to a maximum length of 1.2 inches. Tarantulas can weigh up to 3oz, and they can grow up to 4.5 inches in length.

Tarantulas and wolf spiders are easily identified by their size disparity.

Wolf Spider vs Tarantula: Setae or Hairs

What Do Wolf Spiders Eat?
Wolf spiders have short, fine hairs on their body, but tarantulas have long hairs on their body.

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Setae, elongated trichobothria, look like hairs to the human eye, but they are not hairs because only mammals possess hair. Wolf spiders have shorter hair than tarantulas, and they rely more on their vision than their sense of touch. That’s not the case for tarantulas.

Tarantulas have medium-length hair that can act as an irritating barb to foes, including people, and these hairs are used to help the spider-sense the world around them.  

Wolf Spider vs Tarantula: Patterns

Wolf spiders have patterns on their bodies, but tarantulas do not. Tarantulas do have patterns on their legs, though. One of the most common patterns that a wolf spider can have is brown hair with a darker brown stripe running down its back.

Although that stripe can make the wolf spider resemble more dangerous spiders, like the hobo spider, a person should first consider their location before jumping to any conclusions about the spider. For example, the range of the hobo spider and brown recluses could make their presence in one’s home impossible.

Wolf Spider vs Tarantula: Color

Wolf spiders are brown, dark brown, gray, tan, and rarely black. Tarantulas are usually dark brown or black, but they can also be red, green, blue, and other colors as well.  

Knowing the potential colors of these spiders can help you identify the species you’re looking at or discard others.  

Wolf Spider vs Tarantula: Eyes

Most Dangerous Spiders
Tarantulas’ eyes are harder to see than the wolf spiders’ eyes.

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Wolf spiders have more apparent eyes than the tarantula; wolf spiders’ eyes are often larger and more visible than tarantulas. A wolf spider’s eyes are arranged in three horizontal rows with two eyes in the first, two eyes in the second, and four eyes in the third.

Tarantulas’ eyes are often covered by their hair, but they have two rows of eyes in front with two large eyes and then four smaller eyes below. They have two additional eyes on the side of their head that aid with identifying and capturing prey.

Although both spiders have the same number of eyes, they are positioned very differently.

Wolf Spider vs Tarantula: Fang Position

Wolf spiders have pincer-like fangs

Wolf spiders are araneomorphs which means they have pincer-like fangs that are front-facing, but tarantulas are mygalomorphs and that means their fangs face downward. If the spiders’ fangs look like they could pinch you, it’s probably a wolf spider or member of its family. If the spiders’ fangs appear capable of stabbing downward into something, it could be a tarantula.

Wolf Spider vs Tarantula: Number of Tarsal Claws

Wolf spiders have three tarsal claws at the end of their legs, but tarantulas only have two tarsal claws at the end of their legs. These claws are used to aid with walking and climbing in pursuit of prey. Typically, this is a last-ditch identification measure because the spider would most likely have perished by the time its tarsals can be examined.

Wolf spiders and tarantulas can look similar at first glance. However, we have now identified seven key differences that can help you differentiate the two spiders. The most significant features that you should look for when identifying these creatures from afar include size, color, hair, and pattern.

From those few things alone, you should be able to tell if a spider is a tarantula or a wolf spider if those are the only two options you’re considering at the time.  

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About the Author

I am a freelancer specializing in SEO content writing. I write in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I've been writing full-time since 2018, so I've been doing remote work before it was cool. When I'm not working, I can be found reading, trying to catch up on my tv show backlog, playing video games, and starting stories that I'll never finish.