A mother brush-legged wolf spider, Schizocosa saltatrix, with her egg sac affixed to her spinnerets. Dana Wilde photo

“TARANTULA!” Silas yelled as he turned over a stone in the driveway.

We were on one of our first bug-, toad- and frog-finding missions of the spring. The first that had much chance of turning up anything, that is. Silas, my 7-year-old grandson, is just beginning to put together the timelines for waking up.

A spider darted across some stones and out of reach into the brush.

“That is a big spider, all right,” I said. “But it’s not a tarantula.”

“It’s not? What is it?”

“Pretty sure it was a wolf spider.”


“WOLF spider?”

“Yep. There are no tarantulas in Maine. Only the ones people keep for pets. None crawling around the backyard.”

“Do wolf spiders bite?”

“They sound dangerous, don’t they? But they hardly ever try to bite people. You’ve caught a lot of wolf spiders with your fingers, I’ve seen you.”

He went back to studying the driveway. Another medium-size black spider with long legs raced across the stones.

“Is that a wolf spider, too?”


“Looks like it. Looks like a thin-legged wolf spider.”

Some years ago, Daniel Jennings, Maine’s foremost spider expert, who died in 2020, told me that Pardosa, the thin-legged wolf spiders, could be the most abundant spiders in Maine. The “Checklist of Maine Spiders” shows 14 species of Pardosa found in Maine. And I can tell you that practically everywhere in Maine I’ve looked for spiders, I’ve found genus Pardosa.

Dozens of species of wolf spiders live in Maine, some larger, some smaller. Pretty soon Silas and I found a much larger one, this time with brown and tan markings. It was a member of genus Schizocosa, sometimes known as the brush-legged spider. Silas picked her up with his thumb and forefinger and popped her into his plastic container, which now held several sow bugs, the thin-legged wolf spider, a couple of worms and a small toad.

Wolf spiders, or family Lycosidae, are actually one of the easier spider families to identify on the spot. If you can get a good look at the spider’s face, you can see the wolf spider’s looks kind of squared off and flat, and the really telling characteristic is the arrangement of its eyes. Wolf spiders, like most (but not all) spider species, have eight eyes. Six of the eyes are right on the front of its face, with two large eyes peering from the top, and underneath them a straight row of four smaller eyes. The other two eyes are back on the side of the head, and less conspicuous. These are mainly motion detectors.

Wolf spiders’ front six eyes provide good vision over short distances, primarily for hunting. Wolf spiders don’t normally spin capture webs. Rabidosa rabida (a huge wolf spider not usually seen in Maine — though I once found one patrolling a stack of books) uses its keen vision to hunt fireflies. At night, if you’re in the right place with a flashlight or the moon throwing rays at just the right angle, it’s possible to spot little pinpricks of green light reflecting from the eyes of wolf spiders sitting on the ground.

An interesting fact of wolf spider life is that the females take care of their spiderlings. After mating, the mother spins an egg sac that she carries around, fixed to her spinnerets. When her spiderlings hatch, they climb onto her back, and she lugs them around and feeds them for as long as a couple of weeks, until they’re ready to go hunting on their own.

Whether the names “wolf spider” and “tarantula” seem scary because they belong to spiders, or the spiders seem scary because the names sound ominous, I don’t know. If I were a bug, I guess I’d be terrified either way. But Silas and I have yet to be eaten by a wolf spider. And not only that, they’re actually on our side because they sometimes eat ticks, which are out to get us.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at dwilde.naturalist@gmail.com. His book “A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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