Wolf Spider Facts and Population Changes in the Warming Arctic - Owlcation - Education
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Wolf Spider Facts and Population Changes in the Warming Arctic

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about living things.

A female wolf spider (Pardosa lugubris)

A female wolf spider (Pardosa lugubris)

Wolf Spiders and Two Arctic Species

Wolf spiders are impressive hunters with good eyesight. The vast majority don’t create webs. Instead, they either hide and lunge for their prey as it passes by or chase the prey and grab it. The latter behaviour gave them their name. The animals are capable of moving fast. They are venomous, but the venom generally doesn't have a serious effect on humans. The spiders are widespread and found in most parts of the world.

Multiple species of wolf spiders live in the Arctic. Researchers have discovered that the increasing temperature there is having an effect on at least two of the species. One group of scientists has discovered that Pardosa glacialis is currently reproducing twice in the summer instead of once. Another group has found population and chemical changes in Pardosa lapponica. The changes suggest that cannibalism in the species has significantly increased.

Six of a wolf spider's eight eyes are shown in this photo of a member of the Hogna genus. The other two eyes are on top of the head.and are slightly visible in the photo.

Six of a wolf spider's eight eyes are shown in this photo of a member of the Hogna genus. The other two eyes are on top of the head.and are slightly visible in the photo.

Physical Features of the Arachnid

Spiders have different features from insects. Both animals belong to the phylum Arthropoda, but spiders are classified in the class Arachnida instead of the class Insecta. Members of the class Arachnida are sometimes referred to as arachnids. The class also includes scorpions, ticks, mites, and other animals.

Body Parts

A wolf spider may be brown, tan, orange, grey, or black. Some species are mainly one colour while others bear stripes or other markings of another colour. The body is hairy and consists of two sections: the cephalothorax and the abdomen. The sections are joined by a short stalk, which is usually obscured when a spider is seen. The cephalothorax has a humped appearance, as can be seen in a side view of the spider. It resembles a roof attached to slanting walls. Spinnerets at the end of the abdomen release silk.

Appendages

The animal has eight legs arranged in four pairs. It also has a pair of chelicerae, or jaws, in the front of its mouth. An appendage known as a pedipalp can be seen on each side of the chelicerae. The pedipalps are sensory structures used for smell and taste. They are also used by the male to insert sperm into a receptacle in the female's body.

Sense Organs

The spider has eight eyes. The two largest ones are located at the front of the head. Four small ones lie underneath the large ones. The other two eyes are located on the top of the head and are widely separated. The spider's vision is described below.

The animals don't have ears, but various parts of their body have sense organs that can detect vibrations. Some of the hairs on the body of the arachnids are sensitive to vibration and touch.

Wolf Spider Vision

A wolf spider's eyes have a lens, which focuses light rays on the retina. The retina is stimulated by the light rays. Some of the eyes have a tapetum lucidum behind the retina. The tapetum reflects light that has passed through the retina back to it, giving the light-sensitive cells another chance to be stimulated. This process improves night vision. Wolf spiders are often active at night and rest during the day. The tapetum produces a glowing appearance when light strikes it, a phenomenon known as eyeshine.

Although the eyes of wolf spiders have similar parts to ours, the eyes aren't as well developed as human ones and the arachnids can't see as well as us. They are said to have good vision compared to many other spiders, however. Experiments have shown that they can see green and ultraviolet light but no other colours.

A female Pardosa saltans carrying eggs

A female Pardosa saltans carrying eggs

Daily Life in the Family Lycosidae

Summer

Almost all wolf spiders live in burrows and don't produce webs. It's not correct to say that none of them make webs, however. One of the references below mentions two wolf spider species in Uruguay that do build webs. The silk released from the end of a spider's abdomen is used for additional purposes. It's used to attach the female's eggs to her body, for example.

Outside of the Arctic, wolf spiders are found in leaf litter in forests, in grasslands, and by ponds and streams. Like their relatives, they are carnivores. They actively hunt for small animals, including insects, small invertebrates such as springtails, and other spiders. Sometimes they wait for their prey to come to them and then pounce on the unsuspecting animal. Wolf spiders are in turn prey for larger animals.

Winter

Spiders often hide and become dormant during winter as the temperature drops. In this condition, they can survive without food for a long time. Some find an area under snow that is warm enough for limited activity.

Some species of spiders are able to survive during a cold winter by producing chemicals that act as an antifreeze. This prevents their cells from freezing. Researchers suspect that some spiders have more adaptations for winter survival that just antifreeze chemicals, however, because these animals survive at very low temperatures.

I haven't seen any scientific reports specifically describing how Arctic wolf spiders survive the winter, but it may well be by the same method as other spiders adapted for freezing winter temperatures.

Reproduction in Wolf Spiders

Both of the Arctic wolf spiders mentioned below belong to the Pardosa genus. In the video above, a male Pardosa amentata is "dancing" to attract a female. The male raises and then vibrates his pedipalps and front legs to attract the female's attention. The female may allow him to mate after this display. A male's pedipalps are bigger than a female's.

At first, the collection of eggs looks like a large ball and is attached to the female's spinnerets, as shown in the photo above. When the youngsters hatch, they climb onto their mother's back, or the top of the cephalothorax.

Wolf Spider Bites and Venom

Wolf spiders are not aggressive, but they will bite if they are threatened. They shouldn't be handled. The bite and the venom aren't considered to be a serious problem for humans, but there are exceptions. If someone is allergic to the venom, the results may be serious and the person may require medical help. In addition, a bite causing major pain shouldn't be ignored because it's believed to have come from a wolf spider. The spider that bit the person may have been misidentified and may be one that causes more serious problems than a wolf spider.

Even if a specific species of spider is not considered to be dangerous for humans, a bite area should be cleaned, bandaged, and treated like any other wound. If the wound is large or painful, if an infection or further symptoms develop, or if a person has any concerns about the wound, medical aid should be sought.

Pardosa glacialis Reproduction in the Arctic

A group of scientists has been studying wolf spiders living around Zackenberg in Greenland. The scientists have observed that in the last two decades snowmelt in the area has occurred "progressively earlier" and temperature has increased.

The scientists investigated Pardosa glacialis, a common wolf spider in the Arctic. Researchers knew that outside of the Arctic the female of the species often produces two egg clutches per year. Now females are producing two clutches in the Arctic instead of the single one that they used to produce.

Some of the female Pardosa glacialis spiders in the Zackenberg area have been collected in pitfall traps since 1996, enabling changes over time to be recognized. The scientists have discovered the following facts.

  • In years when the snow melts earlier, the females lay their first clutch earlier and the proportion of females that produce a second clutch before the season ends is larger.
  • Larger females tend to produce larger first clutches.
  • The size of the female doesn't affect the size of her second clutch.

Assuming the extra babies produced as the climate warms survive, the increased spider population could have an important effect on the Arctic ecosystem. Arctic spiders feed on small animals known as springtails. The springtails feed on fungus. The food chain and the environment might be affected by an increased number of spiders.

Arctic temperatures are currently rising at twice the global average and climate projections indicate that the Arctic will continue to warm at a higher rate than the rest of the globe, which will lead to longer growing seasons

— Toke T. Høye et al, The Royal Society Publishing

Changes in the Pardosa lapponica Population

Other scientists have also been studying the effects of increased temperature on wolf spiders. In addition, they have investigated the fate of the young spiders born in a warming climate. The species explored in the research was different from the one in the Greenland research, however, and the research was done in Alaska, not Greenland.

The researchers investigated wild and captive spiders in the Pardosa lapponica species. They found that as the females became bigger and produced more offspring, cannibalism apparently increased. This may have been due to increased competition for food in the group. The discoveries are summarized below.

  • Wolf spiders tend to become larger as the climate warms.
  • Larger females produce more offspring (or at least, more eggs).
  • Unexpectedly, the researchers found that when the females in a wild group were larger and more eggs were produced, fewer juveniles existed than would be expected.
  • The researchers performed a chemical analysis to detect specific components in the bodies of spiders in the wild group described above and in experimental high-density groups and lower-density ones. The results suggested that when many spiders were present in a group, the animals were more likely to eat other spiders.
  • Wolf spiders that ate only other wolf spiders didn't live as long as those that ate a wider variety of food.

As in the previous research, the results are interesting and suggest that certain consequences will follow based on the observations that were made. It's unknown whether these consequences will actually happen, however.

The Future of Life in the Arctic

The results of the studies described above show that a warmer climate may have several effects on Arctic wolf spiders. Understanding the population dynamics of the animals in their natural habitat as the climate changes may not be as easy as imagined. At the moment, some speculation is involved in predicting the effects of changes in the spider population. The topic is important because the animals influence other life forms in their ecosystem as well as the non-living part of the environment.

The increasing temperatures in the Arctic are worrying for multiple reasons. It's important to understand the effects of the changing conditions on the organisms that live there and on the Arctic habitat.

References

  • Wolf spider entry from the Encyclopedia Britannica
  • Information about wolf spiders from the Missouri Department of Conservation
  • More information about the spiders from PennState Extension
  • Wolf spider vision from the ScienceDaily news service
  • Silks in web-building wolf spiders from The Science Breaker (a partner of the University of Geneva)
  • Spiders in winter from the Burke Museum
  • Climate change and Arctic amplification from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
  • Earlier springs enable Arctic wolf spiders to produce a second clutch from The Royal Society Publishing
  • Wolf spiders may be turning to cannibalism in the Arctic from the phys.org news service

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 13, 2020:

Hi, Mel. I like spiders, too. I agree that some of them may give us important information about the changing environment. The discoveries could be very interesting.

The multiple eyes of spiders and their different locations have some benefits. They can enable the animals to detect movement around them without the necessity of moving their body to do this, for example. I hope researchers learn more about spider vision soon.

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on July 12, 2020:

I see you have been very busy here on Hub Pages. Unlike most people, I am a fan of spiders, even though I sometimes walk through their webs in the course of my duties. Wolf spiders seem more my speed, since they don't generally create any of these annoying, sticky webs.

These little buggers are going to teach us a few disturbing things about our changing environment. Remarkable animal, with remarkable ability to adapt to diverse climates. My only question is - what is the use of all those eyes when you can only see two colors with them.

Great article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 10, 2020:

Thanks for the comment and the interesting comparison with Aragog, Peg. I've never thought of that before.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on July 10, 2020:

Such interesting creatures. I've seen my share of these wolf spiders around my front porch including some that have large egg clutches. They're scary but not too aggressive. Love the photos with the eyes. It reminds me of that Harry Potter spider, Aragog, friend of Hagrid.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 06, 2020:

Thank you, Cynthia. The ability to survive in winter is impressive!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on July 06, 2020:

Fascinating hub Linda, I could do with some of that anti-freeze in the winter! Spiders are interesting creatures and I never thought of them living in the Arctic before.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 05, 2020:

Thank you very much, Genna.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on July 05, 2020:

Hi Linda. Spiders have always given me the willies. But I now have a slightly different perspective thanks to your interesting article. So well written.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 04, 2020:

Hi, Miebakagh. I just checked the link. It works fine.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 04, 2020:

Linda, the link you sent does it work? Check it. Thanks.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 04, 2020:

I doubt whether the many scientists studying the situation are confused. There is some uncertainty about the extent of the effects of the melting ice in the future, but there isn’t uncertainly about the fact that effects have already occurred.

The NASA article in the link below is entitled “Greenland’s Rapid Melt Will Mean More Flooding”. It’s worth reading. It mentions that melting ice in the Arctic has already caused a rising sea level and more flooding. The projections for how much the sea level will rise in the future are difficult. Climatology is a complex science. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore what the scientists have to say.

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/greenlands-rapid-...

There is no basis for saying that animals will adapt to changing conditions in the Arctic or that only a few species have been affected so far unless you’ve contacted all of the biologists that study the many animals that live in the Arctic, visit it in summer, or depend indirectly on conditions there.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 04, 2020:

Linda, the polar melting into water seems to confuse certain persons. Will the occean and seas over flow? Hardly the case. Just certain few animals were affect. I am sure others will adapt to the new condition.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 03, 2020:

Hi, Denise. I agree. We may indeed be heading for serious problems. It's a worrying situation.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 03, 2020:

If only we could get the global warming condition under control but too many people don't believe there is a problem or that it needs to be fixed. I foresee serious problems for the animal kingdom and ours.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 02, 2020:

Thanks, Devika. I appreciate your visit and comment.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 02, 2020:

Thank you very much, Chitrangada. Spider eyes are certainly impressive, especially in a close-up photo.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 02, 2020:

Linda the Wolf Spider is interesting in its habits. I always find your hubs interesting and informative. Well-researched and to the point. Attractive and a lot of work put into it.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 02, 2020:

Amazing information shared by you about the Wolf spider. I haven’t seen the spiders so closely. Those pictures are great. Didn’t know they had so many eyes. Thank you for sharing such interesting facts and the other detailed information.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 01, 2020:

I agree, Miebakagh!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 01, 2020:

That's fun!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 01, 2020:

What a lovely story! I like the idea of giving house spiders names, though I can understand why some people might not like having the animals as guests. Thanks for the comment and for sharing the information, Blossom.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on July 01, 2020:

Thank you for such an informative article. I'm afraid I'm not a fan of spiders at all, but I do find them interesting - from a distance! When I was young my Grandmother had two huntsman spiders in her house. She called them Jack and Jill and when we visited I looked very carefully to find where they were before I sat down!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 01, 2020:

Hi, Adrienne. Spiders have some unusual features. I enjoy observing them.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 01, 2020:

Hi, Dora. Thanks for the visit. Wolf spiders do enter homes at times, but they are more likely to be found in a basement or a garage than a bedroom.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 01, 2020:

Hi, Millicent. Wolf spiders do have venom glands, like most other spiders, but experts say they are unlikely to hurt us. The exception would be if someone is allergic to the venom. The spiders have some interesting features. I'm impressed by their eight eyes, too!

Adrienne Farricelli on July 01, 2020:

Although creepy looking, spiders are quite fascinating! Wolf spiders are new to me, so it was interesting learning more about them. I didn't know spiders can stay so long without eating and can produce a special substance that makes them survive cold temperatures.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 01, 2020:

These wolf spiders are fascinating, with their eight eyes, sound vibrations, unique habits and more. I woke up one Thanksgiving morning with a swollen leg, no idea what caused it, until the emergency room said it was a spider bite. Would a wolf spider be in my bedroom? Probably, not one of these. Thanks for another interesting article.

Millicent Okello from Nairobi, Kisumu Kenya on July 01, 2020:

Wolf spiders look scary and poisonous too. I have gained so much from the spiders. I didn't know they have eight eyes .wow!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Hi, Bill. Yes, eight legs and eight eyes make an interesting combination! Thanks for commenting.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on June 30, 2020:

Very interesting, Linda. One has to certainly appreciate a creature with eight legs and eyes. How unique! I was not familiar with the Wolf Spider so I learned something new today. Thank you.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Yes, we are all related.

manatita44 from london on June 30, 2020:

Chuckle. Glad you do, Linda.

They are God's after all.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Manatita. I know that spiders have features that many people consider unattractive. I like the animals, though.

manatita44 from london on June 30, 2020:

Eight eyes and eight legs. Scary! Very ugly looking creatures, sorry. No wonder some humans are afraid of them.

I see that global warming affects us all. Actually, I have a friend who wrote a book on the eco system. I believe you must be in the same field. I call him Durjaya. He is Professor ... something.

Another super article on spiders or rather wolf spiders and their way of life. The dance to mate is pretty interesting to see.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

No, Miebakagh, wolf spiders are not very dangerous, as the reliable references at the end of this article say, unless a person is allergic to the venom. I think you might be confused about terminology.

Huntsman spiders are different animals from wolf spiders and belong to a different biological family. (I've never heard of hunter spiders.) Huntsman spiders belong to the family Sparassidae while wolf spiders belong to the family Lycosidae.

Perhaps where you live there is a dangerous species that is locally known as a wolf or hunter spider and that belongs to a different family. Common names can be confusing.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 30, 2020:

Hi all, if I became aware of a spider around my environment, I would not hesitatd to go for a kill. Wolf or hunter spiders are very dangerous animals.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Hi, Peggy. I think that wolf spiders are fascinating animals, too. The situation in the Arctic is of great concern.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 30, 2020:

It is fascinating that wolf spiders, for the most part, do not construct webs and preferably live in burrows or leaf litter. It is concerning that the arctic is warming so fast and affecting so many species, including these spiders.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Thanks for the comment, Pamela. Spiders have some intriguing features. It's interesting to discover people's opinions about the animals. They seem to provoke strong reactions!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 30, 2020:

I don't think I have ever seen such a close up picture of a spider and I thought it was interesting. I also never thought about spiders having smell and taste. This was a very interesting article.

I wish the Artic wasn't melting as it surely affects everything, like the spiders having young twice in the summer. I would not like to be too close to any spider but I enjoyed learning about them, Linda.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Thanks, Mary. I think the situation in the Arctic is interesting and worrying at the same time.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Hi, Liz. I think the phrase "the mind boggles" is very appropriate for the current situation. Thanks for the visit.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Hi, Liza. I like the second photo, too. Spider eyes are impressive!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Hi, Bill. I would be on my hands and knees studying the spider, too! I enjoying looking at the ones that I see on my walks.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Thanks, Eric. I appreciate your visit and comment.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Hi, Ann. I appreciate your comment. It's a shame that the Earth is experiencing so many problems. I hope the two that you mention are solved soon. They are worrying.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Linda, this is interesting because you have very well described these spiders but also the Arctic as their environment and how the changes in the climate affect this specie. I have no recognition of the different species of spiders, so this is new knowledge to me.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Hi, Manuela. A large spider could be intimidating! I enjoying observing the small ones, though.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Thank you very much, Fran. I know that some people don't like spiders, but I think they are interesting animals.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 30, 2020:

This gives a fascinating insight into how climate change is affecting this type of spider. It makes me wonder how many other species are being affected by the increasing temperatures. The mind boggles at the knock on effect within the ecosystem.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 30, 2020:

Thank you very much, Miebakagh. I appreciate your comment.

Liza from USA on June 30, 2020:

Spiders are fascinating creatures. Most of the people I know, they are not a fan of spiders. I never heard or seen wolf spiders in Malaysia. Reading the article has given me more knowledge about wolf spiders and their species. I like the second photo because I can see their visible eyes. Thank you for sharing the intriguing article, Linda.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 30, 2020:

Fascinating information, Linda! Bev would freak if she saw one of these little darlings in our house. The dogs would freak. Me, I would be on my hands and knees studying it. Different strokes for different folks, eh?

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 30, 2020:

So interesting. I think this will be fun to read with my son. Thank you.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 30, 2020:

What a fascinating spider. I never considered that there might be spiders that don't construct webs.

Nor did I realise that the warming of the Arctic was twice the global average - that's scary! We have much to deal with and maybe the current virus will wake up some who think we can just continue as normal. Sadly, many seem to be going about their 'normal' lives without thinking about others' safety and I think those people have the same attitude to the environment and changing their lifestyle to make a difference.

I enjoyed reading this and learnt a lot, Linda. Thank you.

Ann

Manuela from Portugal on June 30, 2020:

I am not a fan of spiders at all, I hope they stop becoming larger with the weather changes otherwise they will be even more frightening!

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on June 30, 2020:

I always find your articles fascinating and informative. Although I do not like spiders, I also know each creature deserves respect. Again, climate warming has a far-reaching effect on everything. Great article.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 30, 2020:

Linda, this is an excellent update of the spider upon the melting. Arctic. Your precautional warning not to ignored a non-poisonous spide's sting is welcomed. The article interested and captivated me to the end. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 29, 2020:

That's a good question, Flourish. Only the abstract of the original paper is available without payment, and that doesn't mention that spiders were eating their relatives.

I think spiders are interesting animals, even though they're much smaller and perhaps less imposing than polar bears.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 29, 2020:

I was wondering whether the cannibalism included parents eating their young, siblings eating each other or is it just a free for all for survival? The thought of researchers going to the arctic to study not polar bears (such a noble creature) but instead these tiny wolf spiders struck me as a little ironic. Some grad student’s parents must be kinda shaking their heads a little.