Wolf Spiders vs Brown Recluse Identification & Comparison

To many people, spiders are a nightmare and there’s nothing worse than an infestation or even the sight of just one lone spider in the home. 

However, it might turn out that the reputation of these eight-legged creatures is larger than life for no good reason…or is it?

Read on to learn about the distribution, behavior, and venom of both of these species, as well as their identification as we compare wolf spider vs brown recluse.

Wolf Spiders Vs Brown Recluse Spiders Key Differences

The biggest difference between these two species lies in their distribution – their geographical ranges overlap in only a few places globally. Even when they do share a habitat – these two spiders are easy to tell apart.

Appearance

Both the brown recluse and wolf spiders are small insects, and the most obvious difference between the two is the number of eyes. Brown recluse spiders have only six eyes, while wolf spiders (and most other spiders) have eight eyes.

Additionally, the top two eyes of wolf spiders are usually much larger than the other eyes, making them easy to recognize.

Color & Distinguishing Marks

Brown recluse spiders are sometimes (usually colloquially) referred to as ‘violin spiders’. This is because they have a distinct violin-shaped mark on the top of their torso (known as the cephalothorax).

Although most recluses have this violin mark, not all of them develop it, so it can’t be considered a defining factor. Pirate spiders, for example, also have a similar marking. In brown recluses, the size and darkness of the violin depend on the maturity of the spider.

Another thing to remember about recluses is the lack of color patterns on the rest of the body – recluses are usually brown (as their name suggests) or dark brown.

Wolf spiders range in coloration – they can be anything from light brown to black, depending on the environment. They usually depend on stealth to kill and eat prey, which is why camouflage is of incredible importance for them.

Depending on the exact species (there are almost 3000 species of wolf spiders), they can have distinct markings on their body. The Carolina wolf spider, which is the largest wolf spider in North America, can be both light and dark brown, while they can also develop orange patterns on the sides.

Lastly, it’s important to mention the characteristic eyeshine of wolf spiders. These spiders have some of the best eyesight among spiders and it’s hypothesized that it has something to do with retroreflective tissue in their eyes.

If a person was to shine a flashlight over the eyes of a wolf spider, they would reflect in a very distinct glow. Brown recluse spiders do not produce this glow, which is how they can be told apart.

Size

Both of these spiders are small – brown recluses are usually smaller than an inch (although larger individuals do occur), while wolf spiders can grow up to 1.4 inches.

The largest wolf spider in North America is the Carolina wolf spider, and it can grow up to an inch in length.

Habitat

Even though they’ve adapted well to living in man-made homes, brown recluses are more common outdoors than indoors. In the wild, they’re found under rocks and logs. In homes, they settle in areas where there are few people – basements and attics are their favorite spots.

Because of their natural resistance to temperature – brown recluse spiders can spend the winter in the basement and the summer in the attic. Spiders in general react differently to temperature spikes and drops in comparison to mammals and they can spend months without eating or drinking.

Recluses usually hide in shady areas, which is why they’re known to enter shoes and coats.

Wolf spiders are some of the most adaptable spiders in the world and they can be found in more or less any habitat, aside from extremely hot or cold tundra and deserts.

However, unlike brown recluses, wolf spiders aren’t found around people that often. They like to build burrows (which can be very advanced, even using trap doors), and their preferred habitats are forests and shrubs.

If they do invade a home, they’ll usually hide in a shady area with few people around, preferring quiet places such as sheds, basements, and attics.

Wolf Spider Characteristics & Facts

wolf spider identification
Wolf Spider

Aside from Antarctica, wolf spiders are found around the entire world, where they inhabit shrubs, forests, wetlands, meadows, etc. 

When it comes to biting people, the wolf spider is not dangerous at all. They’re also not aggressive and they won’t bite unless provoked. 

Both Australian and South American wolf spider species (which are considered to be more dangerous than North American species) have been researched thoroughly and it was determined that they’re extremely unlikely to cause death to a human being.

The bite of a wolf spider can cause itching, swelling, and a small rash, but usually nothing more than that.

Mating dances are still a mystery to us! It is now clear that male spiders do perform some type of vibrating dance to approach females, but the exact characteristics are yet to be understood. Female-to-male cannibalism is apparent in this genus, as females that have already mated will sometimes kill a male mate trying to approach her.

What Do Wolf Spiders Eat?

They mostly feed on small insects, including (but not limited to) crickets, grasshoppers, ants, smaller spiders, and small reptiles.

They usually hunt by waiting for prey to stumble upon them – they can sense vibrations (caused both by wings and by steps) and follow them to catch prey. Sometimes they adopt a more aggressive strategy and start to actively hunt their prey.

Brown Recluse Characteristics & Facts

Brown Recluse identification
Brown Recluse Spider

Brown recluse spiders are found in southern parts of Nebraska and Iowa, as well as parts of Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana. There, they’re found both in the wilderness and in homes, as they’ve become more accustomed to being around humans than some other spider species.

This species is not aggressive towards humans and most bites occur because the spider is pressed, squeezed, or stepped on. For example – sitting on a spider will incite them to bite.

Even though their venom is lethal to most insects and even small vertebrates, it normally doesn’t put humans in any serious danger. 

The venom will cause swelling, redness, and itching, while it could even cause the victim to develop a lesion. However, medical intervention usually isn’t necessary (although it can’t hurt).

More severe bite reactions have been documented, but they’re extremely rare, usually occurring in children, chronically ill people, the elderly, and people allergic to insect bites.

Brown Recluse Spider Bite

Because of that, it’s still best to seek medical help when bitten by a brown recluse!

These night hunters are actually very useful, and it’s likely that you can live with them for years without ever noticing them or getting bit. Instead of wasting their venom on you, brown recluse spiders will hunt mosquitoes and flies, making them a beneficial predator.

They’re extremely resilient insects and they can spend up to six months without any food and water.

What Eats Brown Recluse Spiders?

Spiders are usually prey for birds, larger insects (often larger spiders and the praying mantis), as well as lizards and snakes.

How to Get Rid of Brown Recluse Spiders

Brown Recluse spiders are attracted to your home because of shelter and food – as soon as you start removing that from their environment, they’ll start moving out.

Remove Tempting Treats

Even though brown recluses are beneficial insects – nobody really wants spiders in their home (especially not the venomous and scary kind). One way to remove them would be to just remove their webs.

That way, flies, mosquitoes, and other species of insects that they normally eat won’t become dinner. After taking their meal privileges away a few times, they’re probably going to move to another location.

While this method is effective – it takes a lot of time for you to remove webs and for the spider to make new ones – there are quicker and more effective methods on this list.

Clean Out Hiding Holes

Spiders don’t spend their entire life on their webs and they likely have a hiding hole where they reside. They prefer cool, dark environments where they’ll remain undetected.

If you noticed a brown recluse spider in your basement, for example, you’ll have to vacuum the hiding holes in your basement to ensure they’re empty.

Seal Potential Entry Points

Since spiders can’t walk through walls, sealing potential entry points could slow the invasion down. However, spiders are tiny, and agile, and they’re great climbers. If there’s so much as a tiny hole in your wall – a spider can enter your home through it.

Also, even if your home was perfectly sealed, a spider can still enter your home via your person or the things you bring in. For example, it could end up in the bag of groceries you just brought from the store.

Because of this, sealing entry points isn’t as effective as some people might think.

Set Traps

Traps are very effective, and they work in two ways. Firstly, if there are spiders, then there are insects in your home. By setting effective traps, you can trap and kill both spiders and insects.

The most effective way of trapping spiders is by sticky cards – simply set them up on walls and floors and watch spiders (and other insects) get stuck to them. If an insect gets caught, a spider might crawl out of its hole to eat it and get stuck.

There are other traps too, like residual sprays and dust. Spraying pesticides in crevices, holes, and other areas where a spider would gladly live can kill the spider even if the insect comes in contact with the spray afterward.

Dust provides long-term control, but it’s a bit more difficult to apply. You do not want to be breathing pesticide dust in, so it can only be applied in small areas with no people. It’s not advised to apply it in attics because it can contaminate into living areas below.

However, dust can reach places that sprays can’t, so it can be very effective if you apply it safely.

Call in the Professionals

If you don’t feel like touching a spider (and nobody usually does), the best solution would be to call in the professionals. Professional pest removers use pesticides to kill spiders, but more importantly than that, they know how to find the spider.

It can easily happen that there’s more than a single spider in your home, and if you determine that is the case, then the situation calls for professionals, not amateurs.

Aside from the fact that you won’t have to do anything personally, professionals will likely find out the reason for the infestation (be it a hole in the wall, a colony of prey insects, or something else) and you’ll be able to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

FAQ Wolf Spiders Vs Brown Recluse