South Carolina contains one of the most diverse natural habitats in the United States. From the productive estuaries of coastal Carolina and salt marshes to the mysterious Carolina Bays and meadows, the state promises equal parts of nature retreats and fascinating history.
With extensive stretches of habitat types fragmented or destroyed in other eastern states, South Carolina has emerged as one of the remaining strongholds for endangered species like painted bunting and swallow-tailed kite. The loggerhead sea turtles nest along South Carolina beaches, while the red-cockaded woodpeckers are important sentinels of the globally imperiled longleaf pine forests.
Did you know that South Carolina is also home to wolf spiders? There are various wolf spiders throughout the state, but the most common type is the Carolina wolf spider. This particular species is considered among the largest wolf spiders worldwide.
This article examines everything you need to know about South Carolina wolf spiders, including how to identify them and where they are found in particular.
What Is a Wolf Spider?
A wolf spider refers to the hairy spider in the family Lycosidae. It’s a large family consisting of approximately 124 known genera and over 2,900 species. These species bear a striking resemblance, making it difficult to tell them apart. They prefer to live in piles of leafy debris or foliage, but they can also live in small burrows.
The many genera of wolf spiders vary in body size between 0.24 and 1.2 inches long, usually weighing not more than an ounce. Most males are smaller than females.
Common Wolf Spiders in South Carolina
The Carolina wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis) is one of the most prominent wolf spiders in South Carolina. It is South Carolina’s state spider. South Carolina provides a habitat for different types of wolf spiders.
Like other wolf spiders, Hogna carolinensis has eight eyes and eight legs. Its eyes are arranged in three rows— the bottom row has four small eyes, the middle row consists of two very large eyes, and the top row contains two medium-sized eyes.
Carolina wolf spiders are much bigger than most wolf spiders. Females measure approximately 0.87 – 1.4 inches (22 – 35 mm) long, and males are about 0.7 – 0.8 inches (18 – 20 mm) long. They have dark brown carapaces with scattered grey hairs that are not arranged in any discernible manner. These spiders have a darker dorsal stripe on their abdomen.
Carolina Wolf Spider Behavior and Habitat
Carolina wolf spiders are nocturnal predators, though they may also be seen during the daytime. Just like tarantulas, Carolina wolf spiders don’t spin webs. Instead, these spiders create burrows in the soil, under sidings, or between boards and firewood in protected areas. They are typically found in suburban gardens, coastal forests, and wooded and dry shrublands.
What Do Carolina Wolf Spiders Eat?
Carolina wolf spiders feed primarily on insects like grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, ants, and other small invertebrates. This makes them essential to the ecosystem because they prevent the spread of pests. They may resort to feeding on small reptiles and amphibians, but this doesn’t happen often. Their diverse diet helps them adapt to any environment where small invertebrates are found.
Wolf spiders are agile and robust hunters who either chase the prey or wait to ambush it. Carolina wolf spiders wait for prey from their burrows and pounce on it from a great distance. Upon catching it, wolf spiders inject their venom that paralyzes the prey or roll the victim into a ball and suck out the liquefied nutrients.
Carolina wolf spiders have a few strategies to deal with food scarcity. They can engage in cannibalism or slow down their metabolism, especially in harsh environments where they experience persistent deprivation.
Carolina Wolf Spiders Predators
Despite their fearsome reputation and appearance, South Carolina wolf spiders are vulnerable to predation from larger animals, such as rodents, lizards, and birds. Some species of hunting wasps can paralyze wolf spiders using their sting.
Wolf spiders have the remarkable agility and speed to run and hide from potential predators. They can detach a leg and make a daring escape when threatened by a predator. Their venomous bite is also another powerful deterrence from small predators.
Are Carolina Wolf Spiders Dangerous?
Carolina wolf spiders are not dangerous. They prefer running and hiding rather than attacking humans. Wolf spiders will only bite humans when cornered or continuously provoked. However, their bites cause mild effects, including itching and swelling. A person should seek medical attention if the symptoms persist.
Carolina Wolf Spider Reproduction and Lifespan
Sexual characteristics vary across species, most being species-specific and some common between wolf spider genera. Carolina wolf spiders mate in late summer, and the males die that summer.
Male wolf spiders wave their pedipalps in the air or bang them together to court females. It’s also thought that males can sense the female’s previous sexual behavior or even its sexual availability. Female wolf spiders tend to eat the males in a small minority of mating encounters.
It has been documented that male wolf spiders eat some females. They mate with younger virgin females and eat the older, less reproductive ones. However, at the moment, no studies confirm that Carolina wolf spiders exhibit this behavior at the moment.
Females lay the eggs and wrap them in silk. Then, they attach the egg sac to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, allowing them to carry their unhatched young. After hatching, the spiderlings emerge from their protective silken case and climb on their mother’s back for the remainder of their juvenile lives.
Most wolf spiders live an average of 1-2 years. Many offsprings die early and do not survive long enough to mate. For this reason, wolf spiders need to produce as many offsprings as possible before they die.
- Wolf Spiders in Idaho: Everything You Need To Know
- Wolf Spiders in California: Everything You Need to Know
- Wolf Spiders in North Carolina: Everything You Need to Know
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Lukas Jonaitis/Shutterstock.com
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- Oxford Academic, Available here: https://academic.oup.com/beheco/article/13/5/615/327734
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_spider