Nature Notes: Yes, South Carolina has its own state spider
Wed, 07/22/2020 - 9:02am admin
What is your South Carolina IQ? If you read this column often, you have probably read about our state animal, the white-tailed deer, and our state tree, the Sabal palmetto. Most folks could probably also come up with our state bird, the Carolina wren, and maybe even our state vegetable, the collard green.
Would it surprise you, though, that South Carolina has a state spider? It’s true. Some 20 years ago the state legislature decided that the Carolina wolf spider was worthy of such an honor and made the designation official. I can’t say for certain that we needed a state spider, but if South Carolina was going to have one, Hogna carolinensisis a pretty cool critter. And it differs from most spiders in several interesting ways.
When we think of spiders, webs are some of the first things that come to mind. But wolf spiders don’t spin webs. True to its name, the Carolina wolf spider is fast, furry, and generally chases down its prey instead. They are mostly nocturnal, have great vision, and use their eight eyes arranged in three rows to locate their evening meals.
One person recently asked me, after viewing some rather spooky photos of Carolina wolf spiders, if they were very common. These creatures are everywhere! Their range covers most of North America, and if you are wondering how many are hunting on Daniel Island each night, I have a brief experiment for you to try. Don a headlight, or take a flashlight, and shine it from somewhere close to your eyes. Then step outside into your yard after dark on any summer evening when it isn’t wet from a recent rain or sprinkler activity. Can you see them? Those dozens of twinkling stars in the grass are not diamonds, but spider eyes. They are nearly all wolf spiders, and the size of the twinkle will give some indication of the size of the spider.
I stepped out into the green space adjacent to our house on a recent night and there were dozens, if not hundreds, of light-reflecting eyes staring back at me.
Wolf spiders also treat reproduction differently than most of their eight-legged cousins. The female spider wraps her eggs in a silk sack and will protect them and carry them everywhere she goes until they hatch. In another unusual twist, the newly hatched babies, perhaps a hundred or more, will climb her legs and ride around on her back until they are old enough to fend for themselves.
Carolina wolf spiders are the largest of the wolf spider family, with females growing to nearly an inch in body length, or three to four inches long including the legs. Males are slightly smaller. They are hairy and, honestly, a little spooky looking. That said, these spiders are not aggressive and will actively try to stay away from humans or other animals. Like most wild creatures, however, they can bite if cornered or threatened. While they are mildly venomous, it is very rare for a wolf spider bite to require medical attention.
Most of us don’t spend a lot of time exploring our nocturnal surroundings by flashlight. The next time, you do, however, be on the lookout for the South Carolina state spider. They are out there by the hundreds, and they are watching you!