Wolf Spiders in Texas

BugsInTheNews is a VIEWER-PARTICIPANT WEBSITE. This article by Jerry Cates, Marvin W. (Kempner, TX), and Graham M. (East Texas), first published on 7 February 2011, was revised last on 7 July 2012. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 12:02(06)


Lycosidae: female, frontal view; Marvin W., Kempner TX---05 Dec 2008

Lycosidae: female, frontal view; Marvin W., Kempner TX---05 Dec 2008

The wolf spider, in the Lycosidae family, is distributed worldwide, and is comprised of  more than 100 recognized genera, and approximately 2,300 species.

The family name Lycosidae was first described in 1833 by the Swedish zoologist Carl Jakob Sundevall (1801-1875). Sundevall chose the Greek word λύκος, lykos, “wolf,” as a reference to the way wolves hunt for and take down their prey, though wolves hunt in packs and the arachnids Sundevall had in mind hunt alone.

The spiders in this family are small to large (2.2-35.0 mm) hunting spiders with a distinctive eye arrangement: the anterior eye row (AER) is composed of four small, generally identically sized eyes arranged frontally in a line across the front of the carapace just above the clypeus; the posterior eye row (PER) is composed of much larger eyes, the posterior median eyes (PME) are arranged frontally, just above the AER, and the posterior lateral eyes (PLE) are arranged dorsally, posterior to, generally wider apart than, and forming a quadrangle with, the PME. The egg sac, or cocoon, is carried by the female attached to the spinnerets; when the spiderlings emerge from the egg sac they migrate to the female’s dorsum, where they remain for several days before dispersing.

Lycosids come in tan, light brown, to dark charcoal brown background colors, with pale, cream, white, black, yellow or red markings. The carapace and/or abdomen may be boldly or vaguely marked with two or more longitudinal stripes. Legs ar long and stout, and are often supplied with dense scopulae; the tarsi have three claws. Vision is used to detect, stalk, and ambush prey in a variety of habitats.


Lycosidae: dorsal body; Graham M., East Texas---30 Mar 2008

Lycosidae: dorsal body; Graham M., East Texas---30 Mar 2008

Graham wrote on 30 March 2008:

Hi, Jerry

Saw your website while trying to identify this spider, and thought you might be interested in seeing it.

He was under a rock which I removed while painting my fence.

He wasn’t aggressive, and measured about 3.5 inches across overall. I have not yet been able to identify him.

Let me know what you think. Thanks and regards,

Graham M.

Graham’s surname has been shortened to protect his privacy.

Of all the spiders I’ve studied, the lycosids are, in general, the most vexing.

It was possible to reply immediately to Graham that this was a lycosid, i.e., a wolf spider, but at the time the task of  progressing beyond that, with any integrity at all, was too daunting.

Oh, we can guess, and we’ll do that here, but my present understanding of the lycosids is too meager to do more than that.  Furthermore, the literature on this family of spiders is both incomplete and inconsistent, to the point that much of the material published on the lycosids is suspect, especially as portrayed on the Internet. It is my intent to publish only as much information as can honestly be verified, so Graham’s specimen reposes on this page, with the unclassified lycosids, where it belongs until we can feel more confident of its exact identity.

Lycosidae: dorsal opisthosoma; Graham M., East Texas---30 Mar 2008

Lycosidae: dorsal opisthosoma; Graham M., East Texas---30 Mar 2008

Lycosidae: dorsal prosoma; Graham M., East Texas---30 Mar 2008

Lycosidae: dorsal prosoma; Graham M., East Texas---30 Mar 2008

So why is the study of the lycosids so difficult?

Mainly — in my humble opinion — because the various lycosids have so many features in common, combined with a natural variability within species that complicates things a bit.

We are working here with a mere photograph, not the actual spider itself. It is impossible, for example, to determine if the AER is procurved or recurved (though it appears procurved in the photo. We don’t have a good view of the pedipalps, and cannot be certain if this is a male or a female.  We cannot see the underside of this specimen, to determine if it has pale or dark coxae, or a black or light colored sternum and ventral abdomen. Nor can we examine the morphology of the epigynum (if this is a female), or the morphology of the palpal emboli (if male).

With those features we would likely identify this specimen to species with confidence. Without them we are left guessing…

Lycosidae: Giant wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis); Hentz, unk date

Lycosidae: Giant wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis); Hentz, unk date

It appears to be a member of the genus Hogna, inasmuch as the specimen, according to Graham, was relatively large (3.5 inches across) and the genus Hogna contains our largest wolf spiders.

Furthermore, the anterior lateral eyes (ALE) appear to be smaller than the anterior median eyes (AME), which is a distinguishing feature of the genus Hogna.

Within the Hogna, the largest species, Hogna carolinensis, seems to be ruled out by the conspicuous median stripe on the dorsal carapace.

Still, there seems a rather stark similarity between the markings on this specimen’s dorsal abdomen and those depicted in a drawing made by Hentz, in the early 19th century and possibly not long after Walckenaer described this species in 1805.  Not that an arachnologist of such reknown might not have made a mistake or two…

On the other hand, it seems likely that this is either Hogna lenta or Hogna helluo; both are relatively large, and both have the general markings present on this specimen, though Hogna lenta is generally lighter than this.



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