Nature to Nurture: Wolf Spiders

Wolf Spider with BabiesJill Henderson ~ Show Me Oz

The other day, while out in the garden doing a little weeding and mulching, I aroused one of the beneficial creatures that call our garden home. That I might see her amid the ruffled-up leaf mulch didn’t surprise me at all – I’ve seen her and her kind many, many times before. But there was something unusual about her that caught my eye.

Of the 50 or so species in North America – and of the roughly 150 found in Europe – wolf spiders are often noticeably large for a spider. Some can be as small as one-half inch in diameter, but the big ones are around 2″ in diameter – including the legs. That’s a pretty good size for a relatively common spider. A relative to the tarantula, wolf spiders have the same kind of look – dark brown to grey in color with thick hairy bodies and long, stout legs and jaws. Wolf spiders also have three very noticeable rows of eyes with the two in the middle that give them a disconcerting sentient gaze. 

You won’t find a wolf spider hanging from a tree or spinning webs on your front porch because these spiders spend all of their time on the ground. Most species live under rocks, logs and leaf litter, while others dig tunnels or occupy natural holes and burrows of other creatures. Burrowing or tunneling wolf spiders are lined with silk and some species, like the trap door spider, build hinged “doors” of debris or dirt at the entrance to their homes. Some species do spin webs to catch prey but most live exclusively on the ground, ambushing their favorite prey at night with startling speed and strength.

When I first saw the wolf spider in my garden, I felt bad that I had startled her up out of her cool resting place below the deep mulch into the bright warmth and sunshine of midday. Initially, her appearance startled me. Not because she was there, or because, like all wolf spiders, she was so large or moved so fast. No, what startled me was that she seemed to be moving all over. She initially ran a few feet from where she had been resting and then stopped when she realized I wasn’t going to hurt her.

Wolf Spider with Young 2

I leaned down to get a better look and I realized that it wasn’t her that was moving, it was hundreds (and maybe more) of teeny tiny baby spiders covering her entire back! I knew that some spiders did this, but I had never seen it before. Boy, I was excited and a bit mesmerized. And if I were to be honest, I was also momentarily repelled. I’m not afraid of spiders or much of anything, really, but the weirdly coagulated moving mass on her back  generated a brief weird-out moment. This I overcame quickly and rushed into the house to grab my camera before she decided to take off.

Thankfully, I didn’t hurt her during my shuffling in the mulch and she didn’t lose too many riders in the event. With my camera at the ready, I watched as she patiently waited for a few little stragglers that had fallen off  in the kerfuffle. Soon they rejoined their siblings and latched on to her rather large body. I couldn’t help but feel a rush of wonder and awe as this scene played out. It seemed amazing to me that this spider had the instinct – and inclination – to protect and nurture her babies by carrying them around until they were big enough to make it on their own. I’m no expert on this topic, but I have rarely seen this type of behavior in insects of any kind.

Yellow garden spider egg case.

Like other spiders, female wolf spiders spin a fine silk casing into which they lay their eggs. The one in the picture to the left belongs to the common yellow garden spider – a beautiful and beneficial insect in our garden. Like this one, most spiders tether their egg casings to a sturdy, sheltered structure of some kind where the eggs will develop and hatch over a period of weeks. Not all mamma spiders hang out until their young emerge, but a surprising number of them not only stay close by, but actively protect their egg casings. Wolf spiders go a step further and actually carry their egg case between their back legs, or spinnerets, wherever they go until the spiderlings emerge. Once they do hatch, she will continues to nurture her tiny spiderlings by carrying them around on her back for one or two weeks more – until the little ones can make it on their own.

I know not everyone shares my passion for insects and the natural world as a whole. Some find it creepy or scary or even gross. But our Creator made every single thing on earth for a reason and each has its own purpose and place, even if we don’t understand it. I believe that all living things are sentient – that is, that they are aware of themselves and their surroundings. The way Mama Wolf Spider nurtures her offspring proves that she cares what happens to them.

 

So before you decide to kill something – anything at all – out of fear or hatred or yuck-factor issues, remember that the job the Creator gave to us humans was to be stewards of this earth. Not controllers or power-trippers or users – but stewards and caretakers. This means that we as a species are entrusted to ensure that all life, even the creepy crawly kinds, have a place on earth to exist in peace. And even if we don’t know it, these creatures do us and the entire ecosystem a great service, helping to keep our world in balance. If we kill all the creepy crawlies out there… well, who knows which ripple in the pond will be the one that leads to the end our own existence on this big beautiful place we call home.

Until next time, happy gardening!

Show Me Oz | Living and loving life in the Ozarks!
Gardening, foraging, herbs, homesteading, slow food, nature, and more!
© Jill Henderson


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The Ozarks
A Journey of Seasons

Take a walk through the changing seasons of an Ozark mountain homestead with herbalist, naturalist, and armadillo whisperer, Jill Henderson. This delightfully inspiring book is filled with nature notes, botanical musings, backwoods wisdom, and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor. This is one journey you don’t want to miss!

Jill Henderson articulately and lushly describes her Ozark rural environment, nature and living the good life of fresh air and life joy. Beautifully written; full of thick description and detail. You will want to sit on her front porch and watch nature after you read this.” (Kindle Review)

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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz  Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen HerbsThe Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons and Illuminati Agenda 21 can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a featured columnist for Acres USA and a contributing author to Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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6 responses to “Nature to Nurture: Wolf Spiders

  1. I am sorry Jill but I don’t see the spider’s role in this earth, it’s poisonous and creepy, the same as the snake and rats, disgusting creatures. Stay away from them they don’t do any good to humans. I don’t have passion for these insects, and creepy crawling at all.

    • I appreciate your phobia, I have a few of my own – particularly cockroaches! Ick. But the truth is that the vast majority of spiders are not poisonous to humans – only other small insects. God made spiders to serve a purpose in the delicate balance of the ecosystems that allow us to be here. Many larger creatures birds, lizards and frogs and even man beneficial insects like wasps, praying mantises, and more rely on spiders for food. The web of life is deep and complex.

  2. Really interesting article, Jill. I love your attitude & it tends to peek my sense of wonder always. These spiders are so unique & learning about their habits so great. Thanks! Love, Jerre

  3. Caroline Harris

    Jill, this is a beautiful article, so insightful. I believe you are absolutely on the right path with your instincts on this. Someone I know recently killed a Queen Wasp, and I was choked. I am no fan of wasps , but they are vital predators of many insects that blight crops . Nature provides everything, and we just have to be willing to share this beautiful planet with the other creatures that live here. It is a gift.

    • Thank you so much, Caroline. Like you, I definitely have moments of dislike for certain creatures (roaches and flies, for example) but despite that, they all serve an important purpose in this world and we have to acknowledge and respect that role. The spiders in my garden eat grasshoppers, flies, and all kinds of bad bugs along with a few good bugs. In turn, certain wasps keep my yard free of venomous black widow spiders, which they feed to their larvae. The birds eat spiders, wasps and flies. And on and on it goes in this truly miraculous web of life.

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