Family: Lycosidae (wolf spiders)

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The Lycosidae or wolf spiders, as they are commonly called, are often seen dashing from under the grass trying to escape the lawn mower or doing freestyle in the pool. The family name and common name are derived from the Greek word "lycosa" meaning "wolf" due to the spiders' hunting method of ambushing and running down its prey. (The Tarantula is in fact a European lycosid and the name is incorrectly used to describe the America Theraphosids.)

Research has shown that the Lycosidae are important in agriculture, as they are efficient controlling agents of insect pests. They are harmless to man.

Lycosa sp. [image N. Larsen ] Lycosid female with egg sac. [image N. Larsen ]

Lycosid female carrying young on her back. [image N. Larsen ] Lycosid with parasitic wasp larva. [image N. Larsen ]

Most of the genera of this family have abandoned a web-bound existence and have adopted a free ranging lifestyle, much like the Pisauridae. It is a large family of mainly diurnal (there are some species that are nocturnal), terrestrial (ground living) spiders with a worldwide distribution with 28 genera occurring in South Africa.

Being diurnal their eyesight is well developed as opposed to nocturnal species where the other senses are more developed. Eyesight plays a particularly important part in their mating activities that include waving of the pedipalps and raising of the front legs as if following a dance routine (much like the Salticidae).

Lycosids can easily be confused with Zoropsidae and Ctenidae but the eye arrangement separates them. The eyes of the Lycosidae are distinctive, occurring in three rows. The anterior row includes 4 small eyes in almost a straight row. Just above this row are the two large posterior median eyes and set further back on the carapace are the two intermediate posterior lateral eyes. A further lycosid identification character is that the females can often be seen carrying a white round egg case that is attached to the spinnerets. When the eggs hatch, the young are carried on the mother's abdomen.

Lycosids are 3-30mm in length and are cryptically coloured in shades of brown, grey to almost black, depending on the habitat. The carapace usually has darker lateral bands and a lighter median band running longitudinally and may extend onto the abdomen. The abdomen could also have spots or chevron markings.

Lycosids occur in a wide range of habitats, from mountain tops, beaches, deserts and forests. However, they are less common in the latter and the Zorpsidae seem to have filled the forest niche more successfully.

Lycosids are often parasitised by wasps probably because they are free roaming and do not enjoy the protection of a web. The wasps will parasitise them in one of two ways. Depending on the wasp species, the spider will either be stung and immobilized, stocked into a prepared nest, have an egg laid on it and then sealed into the nest, there may be one or . The wasp larva then hatches and consumes its live prey that eventually dies as the larva pupates. Secondly, a female wasp will immobilize the spider and lay the egg directly onto it. The spider continues living a normal life with the wasp larva feeding on it until the spider becomes too weak and dies. This coincides with the maturation of the wasp larva that then pupates later to emerge as the adult wasp.

While it is relatively easy to recognise a member of the Lycosidae family, identifying the genus is more difficult although this can often be deduced from the habitat in which it occurs. For example, Pirata and Wadicosa are semi-aquatic as are some Pardosa species. Pardosa often found in lawns and often fall into swimming pools. The absence of scopulae (tufts of hair on its feet) prevent it from climbing the smooth walls and it eventually drowns. Zenonina and Evippa occur in sandy, semi-arid regions and Tricassa occurs on sandy beaches. Anomalomma and Hippasa are web-bound and occur in funnel webs similar to the Agelenidae. (The two families can be separated as the Agelenidae females do not carry the egg case on the spinnerets neither do they carry their young on their abdomens). Hippasa is a fairly large dark brown spider with 2 rows of white spots on its abdomen.

Anomalomma and Hippasa

Anomalomma and Hippasa are web-bound and occur in funnel webs similar to the Agelenidae. (The two families can be separated as the Agelenidae females do not carry the egg case on the spinnerets neither do they carry their young on their abdomens). Hippasa is a fairly large dark brown spider with 2 rows of white spots on its abdomen.

Geolycosa and Lycosa

Geolycosa and Lycosa are referred to as the burrowing wolf spiders. The burrow can be a cork-like trap door or a raised collar constructed with silk and bits of vegetation. Lycosa is large, pale brown with pale brown chelicerae that turn a reddish colour when threatened.

Evippa and Zenonina

Evippa and Zenonina occur in sandy, semi-arid regions.

Pardosa

The name is derived from the Greek "arctos" meaning "bear". Pardosa often found in lawns and often fall into swimming pools. The absence of scopulae (tufts of hair on its feet) prevent it from climbing the smooth walls and it eventually drowns.

Pirata and Wadicosa

 

Tricassa

Tricassa occurs on sandy beaches from Namibia to the Cape Peninsula. It is possible that females construct burrows.

Text by Norman Larsen .


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