The giant wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis) is the largest of our wolf spiders. Females typically measure 22-35 mm (0.87-1.4 inches); males are smaller, from 18-21mm (0.71-0.83 inch).
The following is a description penned by Nicholas Marcellus Hentz, in the early 19th century (exact date unknown):
2. Lycosa (Tarantula) Carolinensis ? Bosc. M. S. PI. 2, fig. 9. Description. Mouse-colored ; cephalothorax with an indented blackish mark at base ; cheliceres covered with rufous hairs in front, and with a red elevation ; abdomen with several whitish dots and angular transverse lines on the disk, sides nearly white ; beneath, usually quite black, except the legs,  which are whitish, the joints tipped with black. Male with nearly the same marks, very black beneath. Attains a very large size.
Observations. This spider has the same habits as L. fatiferay making deep excavations in the ground. It is frequently found under stones, and possibly it is in such places, nearer the surface, that the eggs are hatched. The female carries her young on her back, presenting a hideous aspect, being then apparently covered with animated warts. The little monsters have the instinct, if the mother is much disturbed, to escape and scatter in all directions. The male, not unfrequently of an enormous size, is often found wandering in October and November, in Alabama, and sometimes enters houses.
Habitat. North Carolina, Georgia, North Alabama. [<?, cephalothorax, 13.2 ram.; legs, 31, 28, 27, 36.9, " 10.4 mm.; "33,30,26.6,35.2. Palpus of d\ PI. 18, fig. 3. Essex County, Mass., 6 and ?. Worcester, Mass., October, d. F. G. Sanborn. Mt. Desert, Me. S. Henshaw. Ohio, d", ?. W. Holden. J. h. e.]
At the time Hentz wrote the above the generic name Tarantula was used by some for the Lycosids, which explains his parenthetical invocation of that genus. Note the question mark that follows the name. Evidently Hentz was as vexed by the Lycosids as I am…
This spider does not have a common name officially recognized by the American Arachnological Society. It is often referred to as the giant wolf spider, and though many of the Lycosidae can rightly be characterized in that manner when viewed alone, it is a fact that this is the largest of the wolf spiders in North America and thus deserving of that title. Unless, of course, you live in South Carolina where — owing to its status as the official spider of that state — it is referred to as the Carolina wolf spider. Were the species restricted to that general locale, we might be inclined toward that common name, but, alas, the spider is native throughout the U.S.
This species was first described in 1805 by the French civil servant and scientist Charles Athanase Walckenaer (1771-1852), who applied to it the specific epithet carolinensis, presumably in honor of the locale (the American Carolinas) where the specimen being described had been found. We have no record of Walckenaer traveling to the Americas, and it seems likely that he was studying at the École polytechnique, a state-run institution of higher education and research in Palaiseau, near Paris, at the time the description was penned.
Bernard wrote on 6 November 2010:
I was surprised to find the spider in the attached photographs dead in my swimming pool in Lufkin, Texas, today (November 6th).
From your website I suspect it might be a wolf spider, but I would appreciate any advice you can give on this.
The size of this spider was intriguing. It was easy to understand why Bernard was surprised to see it in his swimming pool.
Bernard was kind enough to take several additional photos for me to examine, to help ensure an accurate identification.
However, the length of this specimen (35mm, or 1.375 inches), alone, was likely enough to reduce the number of candidates to one. None of our wolf spiders attain this size save Hogna carolinensis, and then only the female is so large, the male being so much smaller as to be understandably confused — in terms of size — with other lycosids.
This is a female, judging from the morphology of the pedipalps, the diminutive leg-like appendages stretching out from the face. In males, the tips of the palps are swollen, at least somewhat, but the females have palps whose distal tips are less robust than the rest of the palpal segments, and that is what we see here.
Inasmuch as this spider’s carcass had been floating in Bernard’s pool for some time, the possibility existed that the size of the cadaver might not reflect the size of the live spider.
And I confess to having thought, at first glance, that this might be a burrowing wolf spider in the genus Geolycosa. That idea resulted when, before measuring the body, I checked the lateral profile of the cephalothorax.
The genus Geolycosa is distinguished from other lycosids, when viewed in its lateral apect, by the steep ascent of the carapace twixt the dorsal groove and the anterior lateral eyes (Ubick et al., 2005, p. 165).
I’d be inclined, from the lateral profile displayed by this specimen, to assign it to Geolycosa, but none of the species in that genus attain this size.
Yet, assigning it to the genus Hogna is fraught with other difficulties. Notice the eyes in the frontal view (click on it to enlarge). The anterior row of four eyes, just above the clypeus (the “upper lip,” just above the jaws), is comprised of two lateral eyes (the anterior lateral eyes, or ALE, which are furthest from the midline) and two median eyes (the anterior median eyes, or AME, which straddle the midline, one on the right, the other on the left).
According to the key in Ubick, 2005, p. 169, the genus Hogna is distinguished from other lycosids by having ALE smaller or equal to AME. In the present specimen, however, the opposite is observed, with ALE larger than AME.
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