Wolf Spiders & Dock Spiders or Fishing Spiders; A Comparison--Plus My Meeting With a Giant Wolf Spider!
How This Article Was Inspired
This article was conceived when I happened to read a very interesting article written by my fellow hubber who calls herself Moonlake. In her article titled: “The Story of The Little Christmas Spider -- Video Tutorial On How To Make A Spidero,” Moonlake wrote, “We had huge spiders on the lake. They would hatch under our dock. We called them dock spiders. I could look out the window and see them sunning themselves on the dock they were that big.”
I know that Moonlake lives in Northern Wisconsin. I was born and grew up in Central Wisconsin and I had never seen a “huge spider,” in all the time I lived there. The biggest spider I had ever seen was perhaps the size of a fifty-cent piece. They seemed big to me at the time because I had never seen a Texas spider at that point, but huge?
I questioned Moonlake about those “huge spiders” in the comment I left on her article, and she told me about dock spiders, something I had never heard of before. I asked several friends and they had never heard of them either. However, I, and all my friends, were, and are, landlubbers. That is the only reason I can think of why none of us had ever heard of dock spiders before. We never had lived near any body of water and that is the primary habitat for dock spiders.
So of course I had to research dock spiders, and sure enough, I found photos of dock spiders, sometimes called wharf spiders, or fishing spiders, exactly as Moonlake described -- sunning themselves on a pier! And they were big. Yes, if I had never lived in Texas I would probably have described them as huge. From the photos and information I found on dock spiders, they do indeed get very large.
During the course of researching this article I learned that dock spiders sometimes live quite a ways inland. I think what we used to call “field spiders” when I was growing up may be the same thing. Except for the giant size, our field spiders looked exactly like the photos of dock spiders I found in the course of my research. They were the biggest of the spiders in my environment growing up on a small farm way out in the sticks in central Wisconsin.
Most of our field spiders were not much larger than a fifty-cent piece, but on rare occasions I saw some that were perhaps one and a half to two inches in diameter, including leg span. The ‘field spiders’ that were truly out in the fields near the marshes and in the woods were larger than those closer to our house. It has been my experience that spiders living in the ‘wild’ get much larger than more domestic spiders.
In any case, thanks to Moonlake (be sure to read her article too), I decided to research dock spiders and share the information I found.
Spiders In Relation to Other Arthropods
Spiders, insects, and crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, water fleas, woodlice, etc.) are all arthropods. The general characteristics of arthropods are that they have exoskeletons (hard outer bodies), and jointed legs.
Spiders are specifically arachnids. Arachnids include scorpions, false scorpions, ticks, mites, and daddy long legs, as well as spiders. Unlike insects, spiders have no antennae or wings, only 2 body segments (insects have 3), 8 legs (insects have 6), and fangs (insects have mandibles or jaws).
The main difference between spiders and crustaceans is that crustaceans are aquatic (live in the water at least part of the time) and have 2 sets of antennae. Some spiders, like the fishing spiders (dock spiders) I am going to tell you about do live near the water and even dive into it chasing prey.
False Scorpions -- resemble true scorpions but have no tail and are only 1 to 7.5 mm (0.04 to 0.3 inch) long. False scorpions occur worldwide except in cold regions. Most live under bark or stones; some are found in books and old chests. They molt (shed skin), brood their young, and hibernate in silken nests. (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Dock Spiders, Warf Spiders, Fishing Spiders, or Raft Spiders
Also called dolomedes, these large, dark colored spiders with white markings on their legs, make their homes in the upper Midwest of the United States, and in Canada. They hang around bodies of water like lakes, ponds, swamps (marshy areas), and slow moving streams, but as previously stated, do sometimes move quite a distance from these bodies of water into fields and woods.
Dock spiders, are more commonly called fishing spiders, maybe because they can dive under the water and ‘fish’ for their food. They eat insects, tadpoles, small fish, small vertebrate animals, and they can skate on the water as well as dive under it for a meal! (University of Minnesota Extension)
With their legs spread out, dock spiders can cover an area up to 4 inches in diameter. Some people confuse dock spiders with wolf spiders but they are not the same and with careful inspection the difference in their appearance can be discerned.
Some people also confuse dock spiders with spider crabs, such as you see in the photo on the right. They are not the same thing. Spider crabs get considerably bigger.
Another Dock or Fishing Spider
Dock Spider - short video
Wolf Spider's Eyes Glow In the Dark
Wolf spiders easily blend into their favorite habitat as a rule and so they are not readily noticeable. Like most spiders they have 8 eyes, but 2 of them are bigger than the other 6. Their eyesight is considered exceptional and useful to their hunter lifestyle. The eyes of dock spiders (also 8 of them) are arranged differently and I have provided photos of both so my readers can compare them.
Wolf spiders are hunters and generally nocturnal and can be discovered at night because light reflects off their retinas just as it does with deer and cats. People hunting for them can find them in grassy or woodsy undeveloped areas by shining a flashlight towards them. They like a variety of different habitats, grassy, woods, near water, etc., so they can be anywhere. (Be sure to watch the short video provided showing how their eyes can shine at night.)
Many spiders do not spin webs and wolf spiders are among that group. They do spin silk to make a door to their burrow that is usually in the ground. If they are inclined to wait for prey to step near the door to their borrow or where they are hiding they will often spread their silk on the ground (or the floor if they’re inside) in order to catch insects that wonder onto it unawares and then they get stuck. Wolf spiders are said to have an exceptional sense of touch also.
While wolf spiders live all over the United States and in many other countries, I never saw one before moving to Texas. Indeed, I have never before seen so many spiders of all kinds in my life, as here in Texas. Spiders seemed most prevalent when I lived in West Texas, which is very dry and on the edge of desert conditions.
So I think wolf spiders and spiders generally like a warmer climate. I also think they are more likely to survive winters in warmer climates and live to grow bigger the longer they live. Wolf spiders can live up to 5 years.
A wolf spider bite can be painful and is described as similar to a bee sting, and will usually swell up and itch. Some people who are allergic to their venom may have additional reactions and more severe than most. While it was widely believed that a wolf spider bite would cause necrosis, that is now disputed, and researchers say untrue.
Wolf spiders are generally harmless and eat lots of undesirable insects.
Wolf Spider With Babies
Wolf Spider Invasion
My husband and I had lived in Texas for only a short time when wolf spiders of almost every size started appearing several times a week everywhere in our apartment home. At first they were a put-off to say the least. They were hairy, and a tan color that matched the carpet making them hard to see, and they could move. They did not just run. The larger ones galloped!
When I say larger, I mean about three inches or so in diameter, legs and all. Being a landlubber originally from Wisconsin, that was large from my perspective, but wait until I tell you about the day I met their momma!
After a while I got used to the wolf spiders showing up unexpectedly on a shelf, on the stereo, on a counter, or a doorframe. They seemed to be less nervous about me too, though their judgment was somewhat flawed.
Back then I hated spiders of every kind and none were safe inside my home. Even though I calmed down after a while and no longer went berserk when I happened upon one of these spiders, I still killed it. I just did not make such a big production out of it. I was much more relaxed and laid back as I found an acceptable object and squashed the spider. They were less inclined to run for their lives with my new attitude and so they remained more convenient to eliminate.
The wolf spiders in their various sizes continued to appear with regularity for almost a year before I met their mama. Something that happened everyday that I thought was odd -- there would be a small pile of cockroach husks on the floor under the dining room table every morning. You know, the hollowed out bodies of cockroaches. I wondered where they were coming from. I cleaned them up every morning, and the next morning, there would be a new pile of them again.
There was only one large window in our living room, a small window in each of the bedrooms, and a small window in our dining room. So our apartment was fairly dark even when the relentless Texas sun was shining as it did everyday.
I never wore shoes inside our apartment and to this day do not wear shoes when I am at home. Now I wear socks most of the time, but back then I went barefoot.
Wolf Spider With Egg Sac
Woman Holding Mama Wolf Spider With Babies
Wolf Spider Mating and Hunting Habits
“Wolf spiders, who use their eyes more than many other types of spiders, use visual cues in mating. The males signal their interest to females by waving their pedipalps (short limbs near their mouths) in special patterns or banging them together.
After mating, female wolf spiders lay several dozen eggs or more and wrap them in silk, creating a large egg sac about the size of a pea. The female keeps the egg sac close; if she is a nomadic species, she will carry it with her under her abdomen everywhere she goes.
Tunnel dwellers leave their egg sacs in the tunnel when hunting, but bring it outside during the day because the warm sun helps the eggs develop faster.
If the female is separated from the egg sac, she will search furiously for it. Mothers are known to exhibit aggressive behavior when carrying their egg sacs.
“Wolf spiders are members of the family Lycosidae. They are robust and agile hunters with excellent eyesight. They live mostly solitary lives and hunt alone. Some are opportunistic hunters pouncing upon prey as they find it or even chasing it over short distances. Some will wait for passing prey in or near the mouth of a burrow.”
What is the largest spider that was not a tarantula that you have ever encountered?
Memoir of a Huge Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider Hiding In My Home
An Eency weency spider's been prowlin'
Round my home so long,
Had I known she was living here,
Think I'd have been long gone!
Scrunched up in the hallway,
Sleeping in the dark.
Not the slightest concerned when
My foot must have nudged her park.
The eency weency spider
Isn't so eency any more,
The eency weency spider
Is blocking the door!
I'd like to save it as a specimen
Inside a jar,
But this eency weency spider
Is as big as my car!
She was the size of a pencil point
When she entered on this scene.
Now she looks like she's on steroids,
Big and hairy as a wolverine.
To think I almost picked her up,
Believing she was string,
Oh my God I still have daymares
When I think of that huge thing!
© C. E. Clark
Mama Wolf Spider?
One afternoon as I was going from our spare bedroom where my office and exercise equipment were, to the master bedroom, then to the living room and kitchen, going about my daily chores, I noticed what appeared to me to be a very loose pile of twine.
Some people may not know what twine is, but growing up on a farm, it was a cheap kind of binding string used for wrapping bales of hay and for other rough purposes. See the photo at right for an idea of what it looks like. You may be familiar with it and just call it by a different name. I have discovered from living in five different states in five different regions of the country, that words, names, and phrases can be regional.
I had received packages in the mail that sometimes had some twine securing them, but I could not remember having received such a package recently. It appeared to be a short piece of twine loosely curled up as though it had been dropped there after being removed from a package. I did not usually drop package materials onto the floor and forget about them, and so I thought it odd the twine was just lying there in a loose coil. It was in the hallway between the bedrooms and bathroom and it was fairly dark, because I did not bother to turn a light on, and no light entered the hall from other sources.
I nearly reached down to pick the twine up with the intention of putting it in a garbage can, but something stopped me from doing that. I walked past that loosely coiled twine several times that afternoon; my bare foot usually no more than a half-inch away from it, if that.
Several times that afternoon when I looked down and saw that twine I hesitated and thought I would just bend down and pick it up and toss it in the trash, but each time something made me stop and think, “Oh, I’ll just do it next time.” Very odd, because I am not one to put off such a simple task.
Truthfully, I think my guardian angel was watching over me, because it just was not like me at all to put off dealing with such a small chore that would take hardly any time at all to dispense with. As it turned out, it was a good thing I had not followed through with that chore.
Now when I think back about that afternoon and what would have happened if I had reached down and picked up what I thought was twine, my blood curdles just a little. I have daymares -- the opposite of nightmares, because I am awake when I think of them.
Nothing happened until evening when my husband came home from work. It was about 6 PM and I was in the kitchen on the phone with someone. My husband had gone for his after-work shower, but became distracted. He came into the kitchen and asked me, “Did you see that big spider in the hallway?”
I hate when someone tries to talk to me while I am on the phone trying to listen or talk to someone else. Trying to talk to two people at once is annoying at best. When I understood what he was saying to me I figured it was just one of those three inch wolf spiders. So that he would stop talking to me right then I told him to just kill it. He asked if I was sure he should do that, and I thought he must surly have lost his mind. Why would I not mean he should kill the spider like dozens of others both of us had killed previously? I answered affirmative, “Just kill the spider.”
When I was finally off the phone I went into the living room and my husband was standing there and he asked me if I wanted to put the spider in a jar or something to keep it. We had not done that with any of the others and I did not know why we would want to do it with this one. We were both in the process of getting ready to go out for dinner and so the spider was still not particularly of interest to me. I could not understand why he kept on about the spider.
“It’s pretty big,” he said. “I threw both of my work boots at it and hit it, but it’s only stunned.” My husband was a contractor and wore steel-toed boots, and they were heavy. What he said did not make sense to me, but it finally got my full attention. Why would he need to throw his boots at one of those three-inch spiders? Why would the boots only stun one of those spiders if it were hit?
“I’d better get it out of here before it comes to,” he said, and went to get our dustpan. It was a normal sized household dustpan.
My husband brought the spider on the dustpan for me to see before he threw it outside into a pasture on the other side of the parking lot where horses were kept. We were on the edge of undeveloped land, and that may be where the spider came from and why it was so huge. This is Texas and who has not heard that everything in Texas is bigger?
The body of the spider was mainly tan with a huge dark brown stripe running its length, just like in the pictures provided here. Its body had to be at least five inches long and about two, or a little more, inches in thickness. It had a very hard exoskeleton. The steel-toed boots thrown hard against it had little affect, although it was at least unconscious.
Lying unconscious on the dustpan, all of the spider’s legs were hanging beyond the edge of the dustpan at least three and a half inches. The body of the spider was quite a ways back on the dustpan towards the handle and at least three inches of its legs were on the dustpan in addition to the parts that were hanging off.
Now I wish I had taken a picture, because people who study and work with wolf spiders swear they never get bigger than five inches in diameter at the most.
This spider would have been bigger than a dinner plate if it had been standing with its legs all extended. Apparently it was resting with its legs all scrunched up close to its body as spiders do when they are resting and do not want to be bothered and are not much interested in things going on around them. It had been dark in the hallway so I could not really see how big it was even in that scrunched up position. It was the legs I had seen in the near dark that to me resembled twine.
There is no way to know for sure how long it had been living in our apartment, but it seemed unafraid of us. It had made no effort to run as I walked so close to it that afternoon.
I suspect if the spider had been standing and alert, its legs fully extended, it would have been bigger in diameter than a charger plate; the sort of plates used as a base under a dinner plate at a very formal event. Charger plates are generally about thirteen inches in diameter. Oh Lord, and can you imagine how tall it would have been standing at full attention?
To say I was ready to go home that very minute would be an understatement. Home meaning back up North to Wisconsin where I had never seen such a huge spider up close and personal in all my years there. To my knowledge, there are no spiders that big in Wisconsin. The dock spiders are big, but not that big.
Nothing I could think of in our apartment was big enough to put the spider in as a trophy to show off. We had no jars that big, and unfortunately it did not occur to me to take a picture of it.
When I think of how close my bare feet were to that huge spider as I made several trips past it in the hallway, I shudder. Had I picked it up, likely it would have wrapped its legs around my hand and forearm and it would have been horrible trying to get it off. I would likely have been bitten. I was home alone. What a great horror film eh? But this was not a film . . .
Biokids University of Michigan
Penn State, College of Agricultural Sciences: Wolf Spiders
Wikipedia on Wolf Spiders
Dock Spiders or Fishing Spiders
University of Minnesota Extension
Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee – Bug of the Week, Fishing Spider
Thousand Islands Live.com on Dock Spiders
© 2014 C E Clark