Fishing Spider vs Wolf Spider A Comprehensive Comparison

Fishing Spider vs Wolf Spider: A Comprehensive Comparison

In the diverse world of arachnids, the fishing spider and the wolf spider often stand out, yet they are frequently mistaken for one another. This confusion stems from their similar physical appearances and behaviors. As an arachnid expert, I aim to demystify these two fascinating species, highlighting their unique characteristics and distinguishing features between fishing spiders vs wolf spiders.

Physical Characteristics

Fishing Spiders

Fishing spiders, belonging to the genus Dolomedes, are known for their impressive size. Adult females can range from 15 to 26 millimeters in length, while males are typically smaller, measuring between 7 to 13 millimeters. Their color palette is predominantly a mix of brown and gray, often with striking patterns that aid in camouflage near water bodies. A distinctive feature of fishing spiders is their eye arrangement: eight eyes in two horizontal rows, four on top and four on the bottom, providing them with excellent vision both in and out of the water.

Wolf Spiders

Wolf spiders, members of the family Lycosidae, exhibit a range of sizes, with some species, like the Carolina wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis), reaching up to 35 millimeters in body length. Their coloration tends to be earthy, varying from light brown to dark gray, often with characteristic markings or stripes that aid in blending into their terrestrial habitats.

The eye arrangement of wolf spiders is unique and easily distinguishable: they possess eight eyes arranged in three rows – two small eyes on top, followed by two larger central eyes, and four smaller eyes in a lower row, giving them excellent nocturnal vision and hunting capabilities.

Leg Length

The leg length of fishing spiders and wolf spiders is a key differentiator. Fishing spiders have notably long legs, with a leg span that can extend up to four to five inches. These elongated legs are not just for show; they are crucial for their unique ability to walk on water surfaces using surface tension. In contrast, wolf spiders have shorter, more robust legs in proportion to their body size. Their legs are adapted for speed and agility, enabling them to swiftly chase down prey on land.

Enhance your understanding of the differences between fishing spiders and wolf spiders with this engaging video from MyWildBackyard. The video offers an up-close look at these two species, highlighting their distinct characteristics and behaviors. It’s a perfect visual complement to our in-depth exploration.

Body Structure

The body structure of these two spider types further accentuates their adaptations to their respective environments. Fishing spiders have a somewhat flattened body, an adaptation that facilitates their aquatic lifestyle, allowing them to skitter across water surfaces and even dive underwater when necessary. Wolf spiders, on the other hand, have a more robust and hairy body, which aids in insulation and protection in their predominantly terrestrial habitats.

In the next sections, we will delve deeper into their habitats, behaviors, and ecological roles, further exploring the fascinating world of these two spider species. Stay tuned as we continue to unravel the mysteries of the fishing spider and the wolf spider.

fishing spider running

Habitat and Behavior

Fishing Spiders: Masters of Aquatic Realms

Fishing spiders, true to their name, are predominantly found in close proximity to water bodies. They thrive in environments such as the edges of streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. These habitats not only provide them with ample hunting opportunities but also play a crucial role in their unique method of locomotion – walking on water. The presence of dense vegetation and rocks near these water bodies offers ideal spots for fishing spiders to hide and lay their eggs.

Wolf Spiders: Terrestrial Wanderers

Wolf spiders exhibit a stark contrast in their choice of habitat. They are quintessentially terrestrial and are found in a wide range of environments, from grasslands and gardens to forests and deserts. Their preference for ground-level habitats is closely tied to their hunting style. Wolf spiders do not create webs; instead, they roam the ground, utilizing leaf litter, soil mounds, and undergrowth as their hunting grounds.

Hunting Methods

Fishing Spiders: Aquatic Hunters

Fishing spiders exhibit remarkable hunting techniques. They are known for their ability to ‘walk on water’ using the surface tension to their advantage. This unique skill allows them to hunt for aquatic prey such as small fish, tadpoles, and aquatic insects. Additionally, they are capable of diving underwater, a tactic they use to escape predators or to catch underwater prey. Their long legs are not only useful for skimming across the water but also for detecting vibrations on the water’s surface, signaling the presence of potential prey.

Wolf Spiders: Agile Ground Predators

Wolf spiders are agile hunters, relying on their speed and excellent eyesight to catch prey. They do not use webs to trap their prey; instead, they actively stalk or ambush insects and other small arthropods. Their robust legs enable them to make quick, sudden movements to capture unsuspecting prey. At night, their reflective eyes make them easily identifiable during torchlight surveys, highlighting their nocturnal hunting activities.

wolf spider next to a wall

Diet and Prey

Both fishing and wolf spiders are carnivorous, playing vital roles in controlling insect populations in their respective ecosystems.

Fishing Spiders: Aquatic and Terrestrial Prey

Fishing spiders have a diverse diet, primarily feeding on aquatic prey. They consume small fish, tadpoles, and various aquatic insects. However, their diet is not limited to aquatic organisms. They also hunt terrestrial insects that dwell near water bodies, showcasing their adaptability as predators.

Wolf Spiders: Predators of the Ground

Wolf spiders primarily feed on ground-dwelling insects such as beetles, ants, and crickets. Their diet can also include other spiders and small invertebrates. Larger species of wolf spiders have been known to prey on small vertebrates like frogs and lizards.

Hunting and Feeding Habits

The hunting and feeding habits of these spiders reflect their adaptations to their environments. Fishing spiders use their sensitivity to water vibrations to detect and capture prey, both in and out of water. Wolf spiders, on the other hand, rely on their agility and keen eyesight to hunt on land. Both species exhibit a sit-and-wait strategy at times, blending into their surroundings and ambushing prey that comes within reach.

In the next sections, we will explore the fascinating aspects of their reproduction, lifespan, and interaction with humans, further enriching our understanding of these remarkable creatures.

wolf spider with spiderlings

Reproduction and Lifespan

Breeding Habits of Fishing Spiders

Fishing spiders exhibit intriguing reproductive behaviors. The females are known for their maternal care, which begins with the creation of a protective egg sac. This sac is carried in the spider’s jaws until the eggs are ready to hatch. In a remarkable display of parental investment, the female constructs a nursery web among vegetation near water bodies, where she places the egg sac and stands guard. The young spiders, upon hatching, stay in the nursery for a short period before dispersing. This level of parental care is relatively rare among spiders.

Breeding Habits of Wolf Spiders

Wolf spiders have a unique approach to reproduction. Female wolf spiders are notable for carrying their egg sacs attached to their spinnerets. Post-hatching, an even more remarkable behavior is observed: the spiderlings climb onto their mother’s back and remain there until they are old enough to fend for themselves. This maternal behavior provides the young spiders with a degree of protection during their most vulnerable early stages.

Lifespan and Reproductive Cycles

The lifespan of these spiders varies significantly between species and is influenced by environmental factors. Generally, fishing spiders can live for about 1-2 years. In contrast, wolf spiders typically have a shorter lifespan, often less than one year.

The reproductive cycles of both species are closely tied to their habitats and seasons, with most activity occurring during warmer months.

wolf spider on rocky ground

Human Interaction

Both fishing spiders and wolf spiders are often feared due to their size and appearance, but the reality is far less alarming. Neither of these spiders is aggressive towards humans, and bites are rare, usually occurring only when the spider is provoked or trapped against the skin. The venom of both species is not considered dangerous to humans, typically resulting in no more than mild irritation or a temporary reaction.

Tips for Safe Encounters

Encounters with these spiders in residential areas can be managed safely with a few practical tips:

  1. Identification: Learning to identify these spiders can help in assessing the situation calmly.
  2. Non-Aggressive Handling: If a spider needs to be removed from a home, it’s best to do so gently, using a jar or container.
  3. Prevention: Sealing cracks and openings in homes can prevent spiders from entering.
  4. Natural Repellents: Using natural repellents like peppermint oil can deter spiders without harming them.
  5. Respect Their Space: In outdoor environments, it’s best to respect their space and observe them from a distance.

While fishing spiders and wolf spiders are fascinating creatures with unique adaptations, they pose little threat to humans. Understanding their behaviors and habitats can lead to a greater appreciation and coexistence with these remarkable arachnids.

Environmental Impact

Role of Fishing Spiders in the Ecosystem

Fishing spiders play a crucial role in aquatic and semi-aquatic ecosystems. As predators, they help maintain the balance by controlling the population of their prey, which includes various aquatic insects and small fish. This predatory behavior is essential in preventing overpopulation of these species, which could otherwise lead to ecological imbalances. Additionally, fishing spiders serve as prey for larger animals, thus being an integral part of the food web.

Role of Wolf Spiders in the Ecosystem

Wolf spiders are vital players in terrestrial ecosystems. Their presence helps regulate insect populations, contributing to the control of pests that could potentially harm crops and gardens. By preying on a diverse range of insects, they help maintain a healthy balance in the ecosystem. Furthermore, as a food source for birds, reptiles, and small mammals, wolf spiders are a key component in the biodiversity of their habitats.

Benefits of Spiders in Natural Habitats

Both fishing and wolf spiders contribute significantly to the health of their respective ecosystems. Their predatory nature aids in pest control, which is beneficial for agriculture and horticulture. Their presence also indicates a healthy, biodiverse environment. By understanding and appreciating the ecological roles of these spiders, we can better recognize the importance of conserving their natural habitats.

fishing spider next to rope

Misconceptions and Facts

Myth 1: Spiders are Aggressive and Dangerous to Humans

This is a widespread misconception. Both fishing and wolf spiders are generally non-aggressive towards humans. Bites are rare and usually occur only when the spider feels threatened.

Myth 2: All Spiders are Venomous and Harmful

While it’s true that most spiders have venom, the venom of fishing spiders and wolf spiders is not harmful to humans, except for rare cases of allergic reactions.

Dispelling Fears with Facts

Fact 1: Spiders Play a Key Role in Ecosystems

Spiders, including fishing and wolf spiders, are essential for the ecological balance. They control insect populations and serve as food for other wildlife.

Fact 2: Spiders Rarely Bite Humans

Encounters with humans are typically accidental, and spiders prefer to flee rather than attack. Bites are infrequent and mostly harmless.

Fact 3: Spiders Contribute to Scientific Research

Spiders have been subjects of scientific research, contributing to advancements in materials science, especially in the study of spider silk, and in understanding venom properties.

Fishing spiders and wolf spiders are fascinating creatures that play vital roles in their ecosystems. By debunking common myths and understanding their true nature, we can foster a greater appreciation for these remarkable arachnids and their place in the natural world.


In summary, while fishing spiders and wolf spiders share some similarities, such as their impressive hunting skills and significant roles in their respective ecosystems, they differ markedly in their physical characteristics, habitats, and behaviors. Fishing spiders, with their aquatic adaptations, long legs, and unique eye arrangement, are distinct from the more robust, agile, and terrestrial wolf spiders.

Understanding these differences between fishing spiders vs wolf spiders is crucial not only for accurate identification but also for appreciating the diversity and complexity of the arachnid world.

Recognizing the ecological importance of these spiders is vital. Both species play key roles in controlling insect populations and maintaining the balance in their ecosystems. Their presence is a sign of a healthy environment, and their study can offer insights into ecological conservation and biodiversity.


Is a fishing spider the same as a wolf spider?

No, fishing spiders and wolf spiders are different species with distinct characteristics. Fishing spiders are typically found near water and have longer legs and a different eye arrangement compared to the more terrestrial and robust wolf spiders.

What spider is mistaken for a wolf spider?

Fishing spiders, particularly the dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus), are often mistaken for wolf spiders due to their size and similar coloration. However, their habitat preferences and physical traits like leg length and eye arrangement differ significantly.

Are fishing spiders bad?

Fishing spiders are not “bad” but are beneficial predators in their ecosystems. They help control insect populations and are generally harmless to humans. Their presence is often misunderstood due to their large size and appearance.

Can wolf spiders live indoors?

While wolf spiders are primarily outdoor creatures, they can occasionally wander indoors, especially in search of prey or during colder months. However, they prefer natural habitats and are not adapted to indoor living.

How can I safely remove a wolf spider from my home?

To safely remove a wolf spider, gently guide it into a jar or container and release it outside. Avoid direct handling and try to maintain a calm approach, as wolf spiders are more likely to flee than to be aggressive.

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