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How To Tell a Wolf Spider From an American Wandering Spider

It seems like whenever I try to get my kids to learn about spider identification, half of them get intrigued and the other half not so much. The latter half mostly cares about classifying insects and arachnids as dead or not dead yet. Despite not wanting to know, understanding what species is at hand can be helpful in avoiding future sightings. Here is how to tell a wolf spider from an American Wandering Spider.

Body Size

When it comes to the size of these beauty pageant contestants, there is far too much overlap to rely on measurements to answer the question. The wolf spider may range from 1/4 inch to 1 1/3 inches vs the wandering spiders coming in between 1/4 and 1 inch. That third of an inch is going to be hard to distinguish especially if not fully grown. Mostly, my kids would say that both are simply too big.


Different spiders hunt for prey in different ways such as:

Both wandering spiders and wolf spiders are active hunters, so they will be seen scurrying through debris, structures, plants, and anything else that may hold a meal for them.

If you happen to find a female carrying her brood about on her abdomen, you can safely assume it is a wolf spider, but that doesn’t help much with most sightings.

Legs & Body

While leg shape and movement can be helpful for identifying some species such as crab spiders, it is quite similar between the two. Wandering spiders are more likely to have their front two pairs of legs closer together, but this can just be a function of where they are at in locomotion.

Body shape and coloration is also pretty similar between the two types of spider. A trained observer is likely to be able to pick out some of the distinguishing characteristics, but would still want to move on to the next category to be certain.

Wandering Spider
Wolf Spider

Eye Pattern

Eye pattern is one of the most useful tools in spider identification. Even though there are some close similarities between the wolf and wandering spiders, the bottom four eyes have an inverse relationship. In the wandering spider, the eyes have an upward curve in their pattern like a smiley face. The wolf spider has them in an upside-down version of this like a frown face. This doesn’t mean either is worse than the other. It is just how you separate them.

wolf spider eye pattern
Wandering Spider Eye Pattern

Help with Spider Control

Dealing with spiders may not be your top pick of ways to spend your time. From identification to sending them packing down the road, Rove Pest Control has the plan for you. Reach out today and one of our arachnid specialists will customize a plan to fit your spider-free needs.