Saga of a Wolf Spider

Heading out to my studio very late one night this week, when I noticed something big and dark in front of the studio door. A toad? Oh wait–turn on flash–holy cow it’s a huge furry spider!! Biggest one I’ve seen in a really long time–it’s legs were all stretched out and looked to be 3-4 inches long! (body definitely 1 1/2- 2 inches long)

closeup of Wolf Spider face

Now, I’m going to be honest here. I usually kill spiders if they’re in my house or studio or pretty much any enclosed space of habitation. I mean, sometimes we (dogs and I) take power naps on the dog cushions, under table, on floor of studio and I’m a mouth breather, so…. gross, right?

But this “little fella” was outside.That’s neutral territory.

Grabbed a 5-gallon bucket lying nearby, turned it over and trapped it, ran inside to find a glass jar, came out and stopped. These guys are really fast and I don’t really want a spider ON me. Hemming and hawing… You want to get a close look or not? You some sort of wimp??! OK, quietly picked up the bucket and quickly put jar over spider. Slipped matboard underneath, turned over, removed board and screwed on lid. Holy cow!! Look at that Mother!

wolf spider in jar, from side

The eyes are a beautiful turquoise blue here (I encourage you to click on any of these photos to enlarge–they look TOTALLY AWESOME when they’re big!)

And Mother she DID turn out to be.

It had all these funny looking bumps on it’s back. Gross!! It’s got a skin disease!!! But wait, I think one of those bumps moved. OMG are those??….

top view of spider with bumps on it's back

…babies!

The Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinensis) is of a really impressive size. Seriously, when seeing it at first my brain signaled “small tarantula” but then I remembered I was in Wisconsin, 2012 (not Central America, 1980’s). These are remarkable spiders for a number of reasons: The mother carries her egg sac with her, always raised above the ground so it doesn’t drag, and does all her hunting, etc while carrying this big egg sac with her everywhere! I’m impressed. They’ve been described as robust and quick-moving. Ha! No kidding. At spiders.us they write: “[The] egg sac is a pale sphere carried from the spinnerets of the adult female. An average count per sac is 100-150 eggs. The spiderlings will emerge from the egg sac in summer and ride on top of their mother until their next molt, after which they disperse.”

So that’s what I had here, a mama with her babies riding on top of her. Spiderlings. How cute. I say this without sarcasm. Now.

Wolf spiders are also remarkable in that their eyes seem to glow in the dark–when you put your flashlight on them, they have “eyeshine” and you can see their eyes literally shining out of the darkness (you’ll see this in later photos). This is how many nocturnal animals can be found at night, with a flashlight–by looking for the eyeshine. Wikipedia explains the phenomenon on various pages:

“Eyeshine is a visible effect of the tapetum lucidum. When light shines into the eye of an animal having a tapetum lucidum, the pupil appears to glow.” This layer of tissue “is behind or within the retina. It reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors…. This improves vision in low-light conditions [and contributes to] superior night vision ….”

Wolf Spiders are nocturnal and they hunt their prey at night, and now we know how they can see in the dark!

wolf spider faces camera

6 of the 8 eyes showing. Pretty amazing face and fangs, huh? Seriously, click it to enlarge to 1500 pixels wide.

So what was I going to do next? I was enthralled and grossed out (did you look at those furry fangs??!!) and yet kept thinking “She’s a mama.” And of course my thoughts turned to Charlotte(‘s Web), which was read to me at a young age by my Mom. Well, after a day of wondering what to do with her, I had to let her go. I learned that Wolf spider bites are NOT necrotic (google image search this word if you want to be TRULLY grossed out), so if she did come back for revenge (hopefully not with her army of children) I wouldn’t be seriously wounded. They also kill/hunt/eat many pests, so they’re beneficial to humans, and…

…she’s a mama.

The next night I decided to let her go–first walking away from the house and outbuildings (I wasn’t going to actually “invite her in”, mama or not). I turned my flashlight on to hopefully get a last photo of her, but the MICROSECOND I lifted the jar off the cement surface, she flew away from the crazy monster bug-catcher.

Check this out, I thought I missed her, but you can see her babies’ eyes glowing from her back as she makes her great escape:

Spider flees, babies, eyes gleaming ride on her back

The next night, walking up from the barn, finished with chores, I noticed something small hopping along beside me, in the almost-blackness of night. Probably just a toad, let’s check it out…turning on flashlight and…holy cow (or holy spiders at this point) it was another mama Wolf spider (I say “another” since this one was smaller), her back covered in babies, eyes shining brightly. “Hey little mama” I smiled (I actually smiled at a spider?), and walked away.

Babies' eyes gleaming in dark, from mother Wolf Spider's back

“Eyes shining brightly” now has new meaning for me.

*NOTE: Here’s a nice video showing how the “bumpy-backed” spider turns into a mama with live babies on her back:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmr-B_JZTnE. A little cute AND a little creepy.