Skip to main content

As cooler weather approaches, it’s not just the holiday season that’s knocking on our doors. Unwanted eight-legged guests may also find their way into our homes to avoid the cold outside. Wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders are both common in many parts of the country, often causing a stir due to their menacing appearance. You’re not alone if you can’t list the differences between a wolf spider and a brown recluse.

However, not all spiders are created equal, and knowing the difference between species can make a world of difference. In this article, we’ll go over the characteristics of each spider and compare the two so you’ll always know who you’re dealing with and how to respond.

What Are Wolf Spiders?

Wolf spiders, named for their wolf-like habit of hunting down prey, are a common sight in many American households. These robust and agile hunters are often mistaken for tarantulas due to their size, measuring up to 35mm in body length (just under an inch and a half). Despite their intimidating appearance, wolf spiders are generally harmless to humans.

Wolf spiders are easy to recognize, thanks to their unique physical characteristics. They have dark, hairy bodies with distinct markings or patterns, usually in shades of brown or gray. Unlike many spider species, wolf spiders do not weave webs. Instead, they prefer to live in burrows and roam around at night, hunting for insects and small invertebrates.

When it comes to human interaction, wolf spiders would rather flee than bite. Their bite, while rare, is not fatal but can cause mild irritation or swelling. Understanding these traits can help you manage encounters with wolf spiders and maintain peace in your home during the spider season.

Example of a wolf spider

What Are Brown Recluse Spiders?

Moving on from wolf spiders, let’s look at another notable arachnid: the brown recluse. As the name suggests, these spiders are known for their reclusive nature. They prefer undisturbed areas like attics, basements, or closets, making your home a potential sanctuary.

Physically, brown recluse spiders are quite different from wolf spiders. They are smaller, with body lengths ranging from 6mm to 20mm. Their most distinctive feature is a dark violin-shaped mark on their light brown or yellowish bodies, earning them the nickname “fiddleback spiders.” Brown recluses are hunters like wolf spiders but don’t actively chase their prey. Instead, they set up a small, irregular web and wait for their meal to come to them. Their diet primarily consists of insects.

Now, here’s where they differ significantly from wolf spiders: their bite. While brown recluses are not naturally aggressive, they will bite if threatened or pressed against human skin. The bite of a brown recluse can cause significant damage and requires immediate medical attention.

Recognizing a brown recluse spider can be crucial in preventing unpleasant encounters.

Example of a brown recluse spider

Comparing Wolf Spiders and Brown Recluse Spiders

Now that we’ve explored the unique characteristics of both wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders, it’s time for a side-by-side comparison. Knowing the key differences between these two species can empower you to take the right action should you encounter them.

Firstly, their physical appearance sets them apart. Wolf spiders are larger, darker, and hairier, with distinct markings, while brown recluse spiders are smaller and lighter, with a distinctive violin-shaped mark.

Secondly, their behaviors and habitats are mostly opposite. Wolf spiders are active hunters, prowling the night for prey, whereas brown recluses are more passive, preferring to wait in their webs for an unsuspecting meal to wander by. Moreover, wolf spiders favor burrows and are often found outdoors, while brown recluses prefer undisturbed indoor spaces like attics or basements.

Finally, their potential threat to humans differs. A wolf spider’s bite, although rare, usually results in mild irritation or swelling. In contrast, a brown recluse’s bite, while also rare, can cause serious damage and requires immediate medical attention.

Remember, both species are more interested in catching their next meal than interacting with humans. The key is to respect their space and seek professional help if their presence causes concern.

Recommended Maintenance to Prevent Spiders at Home

Understanding the differences between wolf spiders and brown recluse spiders is just the first step. The next is learning how to prevent these eight-legged creatures from becoming unwelcome guests in your home. Here are some tips to keep these spiders at bay:


Both wolf spiders and brown recluses love hiding in quiet, undisturbed areas. Regularly cleaning and decluttering your home, especially areas like basements, garages, and attics, can reduce the number of potential hiding spots for these spiders.

Seal Entry Points

Spiders can find their way into homes through cracks, gaps, and holes in walls, doors, and windows. Regularly inspect these areas and seal any potential entry points to prevent spiders from getting inside.

Proper Storage 

Avoid leaving clothes or shoes on the floor. If you’re storing items in your basement or garage, use sealed plastic containers instead of cardboard boxes. This can deter spiders from making a home in your belongings.

Use Spider Repellents 

There are various natural and chemical spider repellents available in the market. Essential oils like peppermint and eucalyptus can deter spiders, while chemical repellents can provide a more robust solution if the problem persists.

Professional Pest Control 

Since spiders feed on insects, having a regular pest control routine can reduce their food source, making your home less attractive to them.

While it’s understandable to want to keep them out of your home, spiders play a crucial role in the ecosystem by controlling the population of other pests. Such being the case, they should always be respected and handled carefully.

If a spider infestation becomes serious, don’t hesitate to call in professionals. Pest control experts can effectively remove spiders and provide solutions to prevent future infestations.

Prevention and first aid for brown recluse or wolf spider bites

What to Do in the Event of a Spider Bite

Despite your best efforts to prevent spiders from entering your home, a spider bite can still occur. It’s important to know how to react in this instance. Let’s go over the recommended steps to take if bitten by either a wolf spider or a brown recluse.

Wolf Spider Bite

Wolf spiders are not usually aggressive and will only bite if threatened. A bite from a wolf spider can be painful and may result in redness, swelling, and itching. Here’s what to do if this happens:

  1. Clean the Bite: Thoroughly wash the area with soap and water to prevent infection.
  2. Apply a Cold Compress: Apply an ice pack or a cold and damp cloth to the bite area to reduce swelling and numb the pain.
  3. Take Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: Non-prescription medications like ibuprofen can help manage pain and reduce inflammation.
  4. Monitor for Changes: Keep an eye on the bite. If the condition worsens or you experience symptoms like fever, dizziness, or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

Brown Recluse Bite

Brown recluse spider bites can be more serious. The venom of a brown recluse can cause tissue damage and systemic reactions. If you suspect you’ve been bitten by a brown recluse spider, take the following steps:

  1. Capture the Spider: If it’s safe to do so, capture the spider for identification. This can help healthcare professionals determine the appropriate treatment.
  2. Clean the Bite: As with a wolf spider bite, clean the area with soap and water.
  3. Apply a Cold Compress: This can help minimize swelling and pain.
  4. Elevate the Area: If possible, elevate the bitten area to help prevent the venom from spreading.
  5. Seek Medical Attention: Unlike a wolf spider bite, a brown recluse bite usually requires medical attention due to the potential for necrotic skin and systemic symptoms. If you suspect a brown recluse bite, seek medical help immediately.

It’s important to remember that spider bites, especially harmful ones, are relatively rare. Spiders generally prefer to avoid humans and only bite as a last resort. 

Final Thoughts

In closing, distinguishing between the wolf spider and the brown recluse can significantly impact how you manage encounters with these common household arachnids. Remember, wolf spiders are larger, darker, and tend to be more active hunters, while the brown recluse is smaller, with a unique violin-shaped mark, and prefers a more passive hunting strategy.

Whether you suspect an infestation or want to be preventative, it is always advisable to seek professional help to ensure a safe and effective solution. For an inspection and appropriate pest control, reach out to the experts at Inside & Out Pest Services today.

Leave a Reply