Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: What Are The Major Differences?

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse

Spiders are one of the most common fears on the planet. Day to day, spiders generally do not pose life or death danger, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be risky. Understanding how to identify different types of spiders, like wolf spiders vs. brown recluse, can ease stress and spider-related fear.

When considering wolf spiders vs. brown recluse, you’ll see they’re vastly different creatures: one harmless and the other poisonous. Wolf spiders are three times larger than brown recluse, striped camouflage, and are not poisonous. Brown recluse are small, brown with a violin pattern on their back, and intensely poisonous.

Although spiders can appear scary at first, they are truly fascinating creatures; each species is complex in its own way. Fear often comes from what you don’t understand or know: a new job, a scary sound, or even spiders. Learning and understanding about spiders can turn fear into appreciation.

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An Introduction To The Wolf Spider and Brown Recluse

The wolf spider and brown recluse are often mistaken for each other. They do have several similar features, but they are vastly different creatures. If you have trouble identifying which spider is which, read on to see some easy identifying features.

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Color

One of the easiest ways to identify a wolf spider is by its colors. There are different breeds of wolf spiders and subsequently differing coat patterns. Their coats are typically striped and camouflaged with tan, grey, black, and brown colors. 

Brown recluse have a very distinctive reverse violin pattern on their backs. Except for the reverse violin pattern, the rest of them remains a uniform brown color. 

Winner: Brown Recluse. Wolf spiders have a coat pattern that varies with their location. Brown recluse have a very distinctive pattern that, if studied hard enough, is easy to identify. 

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Size

Wolf spiders are massive beasts, clocking in at around three times as large as brown recluses. It’s not uncommon to misidentify an oversized wolf spider as a tarantula.  

Their coat pattern and texture are similar to tarantulas. But, size is one of the quickest ways to identify a wolf spider. 

On the other hand, brown recluse are relatively small spiders measuring between ¼-½ inches long. People often misidentify them as wolf spiders. However, their stark size difference can help you recognize them.

Winner: Wolf Spider. Due to their large size, wolf spiders are actually very simple to identify. If the spider is over ½ inch long, it’s safe to say that it is likely a wolf spider.

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Venom

Contrary to popular belief, wolf spiders are relatively harmless. Although it’s uncommon, there have been reports of wolf spider bites; however, they only present with some redness and swelling. 

Brown recluses, on the other hand, are incredibly venomous but rarely fatal. A typical brown recluse bite will present with a red bullseye ring within 2-8 hours of the initial bite. From there, it will blister and sometimes turn black as the skin tissue dies off. 

Winner: Brown Recluse. Brown recluse are far more venomous than the common wolf spider. Although a wolf spider can deliver a bite, it is a far cry from the discomfort of a brown recluse bite.

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Diet

Wolf spiders survive on a diet of small insects and invertebrates. An especially large female can even trap and eat small amphibians and reptiles if the opportunity presents itself. They have also been known to eat each other in certain situations, especially if the population is too high.

Brown recluse have a lighter diet consisting of soft-bodied insects like moths, flies, crickets, and even cockroaches on occasion. Similar to the wolf spider, they are also known to have cannibalistic tendencies. 

Winner: Wolf Spiders. With their powerful size on their side, wolf spiders can hunt larger prey than the brown recluse. 

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Geography

Able to live nearly everywhere on the planet, it goes without saying that wolf spiders are incredibly adaptable creatures. It is most common to find them in grasslands and meadows, but you can also find them in mountains, wetlands, and even rainforests. Wolf spiders can essentially live anywhere that has a food source for them.

True to its name, the brown recluse is just that; a recluse. Though they have been spotted all over, you’ll typically find them in several midwest states and much of the southeast. 

You can find a brown recluse nest in wood, under rocks, and undisturbed locations in the home, like boxes in the garage. These spiders’ nests can house thousands of spiders at a time.

Winner: Wolf Spider. Found worldwide, the wolf spider is known to all and is adaptable to almost any climate. 

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Hunting Style

Unlike other spiders that use their nests to trap food, wolf spiders hunt their prey, just like a real wolf. After they capture their prey, they either inject venom or mash the insect’s organs until they’re liquid. They will consume their food immediately, drinking the mashed organs of their victims.

Surprisingly, this is actually the exact way that the brown recluse feeds. They are known to be nocturnal hunters that inject their prey with venom to subdue it until they can feed. One interesting fact is that although they prefer live food, they are known to also feed off of dead prey.

Winner: Tie. Both the wolf spider and brown recluse actively hunt their prey instead of passive hunting, which many spiders do. 

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Aggression To Humans

Wolf spiders can give humans a terrible fright; after all, they are huge and very scary looking. You can rest easy knowing that, in general, wolf spiders pose no threat to humans. They are known as an “accidental intruder” for homes and are usually very shy.

Biting only for self-defense, brown recluse rarely bite and are not known for aggression toward humans. A brown recluse will bite if they are trapped against the skin, such as in clothing, bedding, or a shoe. 

Winner: Tie. This category is a tie since neither the wolf spider nor the brown recluse is aggressive towards humans.

Wolf Spider vs. Brown Recluse: Hair

One of the most iconic characteristics of a wolf spider is its furry coat. This is one of the reasons they are so frequently misidentified as tarantulas. If you’re having a difficult time differentiating between a wolf spider and a brown recluse, check for hair on the coat.

Brown recluse also have hair, but theirs is short and difficult to see, unlike the wolf spider’s fuzzy look. These tiny hairs help them latch onto their prey, making them a powerful hunter.

Winner: Wolf Spider. Although both the wolf spider and the brown recluse possess hair, the wolf spider’s iconic fur sets them apart.

Related Questions

What is the most deadly spider?

The Brazilian wandering spider is the world’s most dangerous spider. These arachnids are larger than a wolf spider and tout the most neurologically active venom in the world. If untreated, a bite can kill you within 2-6 hours of the initial attack.

They are not known to be particularly aggressive towards humans but only bite if they press against the skin. They have what is called a wet and dry bite, meaning that they’re able to control when they inject venom.

What is the world’s largest spider?

With a leg span of a foot wide, the goliath bird-eater is by far the world’s largest spider. Unfortunately, this South American beast is very rare to find in the wild anymore. A bite from this monster will definitely hurt due to their 2-cm long fangs; however, their venom is harmless. 

The goliath spider comes from the tarantula family and hunts in a similar way by stalking its prey. The goliath spider will rub its legs against its abdomen to release tiny harpoon-shaped hairs as a defense mechanism. These are wildly irritating, and for smaller animals, deadly if inhaled.

As the goliath spider deploys their deadly hair, they emit a loud hissing sound. This sound can be heard as far as 15 feet away and is used to scare other predators away.

A female goliath spider can live to 20 years old and can lay up to 200 eggs at a time. Sadly, males only tend to live to around 3 years old and generally die soon after mating.

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Final Thoughts

Comparing spiders is challenging, and there really is no way to tell if there is a real winner. Each spider has fascinating features that make them wildly unique to other arachnids. 

If the goal is to find a spider that is easier to identify, wolf spiders are your guy. With their large size, iconic hair, and lack of rarity, they will be both simple to identify and easy to find. 

If danger and rarity are what you seek, the brown recluse is the better choice. Brown recluse are complex and fascinating creatures. Though it may be less common to find, you may just find one if you search in the right places.

Stacy Randall

Stacy Randall is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from NOLA that has always had a love for DIY projects, home organization, and making spaces beautiful. Together with her husband, she has been spending the last several years lovingly renovating her grandparent’s former home, making it their own and learning a lot about life along the way.

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