Friday, July 27, 2012

Wolves in the Garden

Or at least spiders that hunt like wolves by running down their prey. I have seen individuals of these large brown spiders for many years around my garden and pasture. Late last summer a momma and hundreds of her babies hung out in one corner of my pond circulation pump box. Just this week I disturbed one of these spiders while I was weeding. It wasn’t the spider that I noticed first however. At first I thought that I was seeing part of a hatched robin’s egg. Then I realized that this turquoise or robin’s egg blue object was being dragged by a large brown spiders of the type that I see frequently. Once I realized that this object was attached to the spider’s abdomen, I surmised that it was an egg sac with hundreds of tiny spiders in it. This was intriguing so I got my camera and decided that I would research these spiders further for this week’s blog post. (This female spider froze in an attempt to blend into the background once I stopped weeding.)

It turns out that these spiders are a variety of wolf spider, the Texas Rabid Wolf Spider (Rabidosa rabida). While the name sounds intimidating, I have found them to be shy and nonaggressive when I come across them. A couple of sources disagreed with my observations but most agreed that they are not aggressive unless handled roughly or cornered. The wolf spider is nomadic, hunting during the day. While I haven’t witnessed it yet, they are said to wait or stalk their prey before running it down. They are not afraid to take on prey larger than they are. Their bite is venomous to their prey, insects and sometimes other spiders, but it is not considered harmful to humans, dogs or cats, although some people wrote that their bite feels like a bee sting. Females are larger than the males with their body reaching up to 2 inches in length and a leg span easily reaching 4 inches.

After the female with the egg sac that I photographed decided that she wasn’t in danger, she proceeded to tuck herself under some mulch and leaf litter in my garden. I plan to leave that little patch undisturbed long enough for the babies to hatch. After they hatch, the mother will carry them on her back until they can fend for themselves.

I hope that next time you see a large brown striped spider that makes you think of a tarantula, that you will be able to recognize it from my photos and let it be. (The dangerous brown recluse spider is only as big as a quarter and it isn't hairy like the wolf spider.) It can help you take out hungry grasshoppers and other insects that would otherwise take out your plants.

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