Wolf Spider Identification

by Eric Neubauer

Although some wolf spiders are active year round, this is the time of year when they start to become more noticeable. Except for a few species that are relatively easy  to identify on sight, these can be very difficult to get down to species level. There are two main reasons. First, there a lot of genera and a lot more species. You are most likely to see are Rabidosa, Schizocosa, Pardosa, Hogna, and Tigrosa in our area which isn’t too overwhelming. However, the second and third of these include over two dozen species locally. The second reason is that most keys rely on microscopic details. There are macroscopic differences, but these haven’t been compiled in any comprehensive way. It may be some time before wolf spiders become as easy to identify as birds or butterflies, but I believe it will happen.

Unidentified juvenile Hogna. More on this one below.

Where to find them: wolf spiders live in diverse habitats. Margins of mowed areas, shorelines, road edges, and leaf litter are good places to look. They are noticeable because they run around in the open looking for prey. They they like to be where there is a way to escape whether it’s into tall grass, under leaves or onto the water’s surface. Many live in colonies, so if you find one, you can probably find more. I find the best time to look is when the temperature is above 70 and humidity is high. On sunny calm days, you can find them active at lower temperatures because the ground warms before the air. And, they aren’t always large. There are some species that have a body length of 0.15” or 4 mm when mature. Males tend to be smaller and a bit more lively than females, and they are harder to catch. As far as I know, none of the local wolf spiders have a dangerous bite, and they won’t bite without a lot of  provocation.

Rabid wolf spider Rabidosa rabida in a clear container

How to photograph them: good photos are important if you hope to make a species ID. Wolf spiders can usually be encouraged to run into an open container. Wolf spiders can jump, but do so more in a horizontal than vertical direction. They can climb, but not as well as other spiders. They will remain in the container until you get some good photos. Size is important, so if the bottom of the container has markings, you use them to scale the body length. Ventral views are important too. Looking up though the bottom of a clear container works. Others put the spider in a plastic bag so it can be flipped over. I try to release spiders close to where I found them when I’m finished with them. If you do all this, you might just have the clue that points to the species.

Unidentified Hogna, from the bottom (Hogna incognita)

Study populations, not individuals: Once you find a colony of spiders, visit it often and make a full collection of photos including males, females, females with egg sacs, females covered with spiderlings, and juveniles. Most experts wouldn’t dare identify a juvenile from a photograph at present. They do look a little different than the adults. However, from my experience working with two species, the juveniles are not only distinctive, but are more consistently patterned than the adults which will have developed some individual “character” in their appearance. In the future, the juveniles may provide the necessary clue for the species of an entire colony.

Thin legged wolf spider, genus Pardosa, with egg sac

Legs: I’ve noticed wolf spiders missing legs. Usually it’s one or two, but I have seen as many as four missing. Males are more likely to be missing legs than females. Legs can regrow, so you may notice a leg that doesn’t look like the others.

Pardosa male missing two legs, with a third that doesn’t look too good.

Recent Observation Notes from Bird and Bee Farm Trip

I continue to be surprised how finely placed the populations of wolf spiders are. At the pond dam, I found a couple of juveniles near the highest point. The first was one of my Hogna incognita (undescribed species). The other was Rabidosa rabida which seems to be species that appears everywhere in small numbers rather than being clustered in populations except perhaps around buildings. I found no more spiders until I got to the boat ramp at the far end of the dam. That’s where all the Pardosa were. The Pardosa may be all one species which would be good since most places I see them there appear to be multiple species that I haven’t been able to sort out.

I stopped at the Little River bridge north of Gause and found no spiders there. Then, I checked out the San Gabriel bridge on CR 487 east of Crossroads, which has an inspection road around and under the bridge. A bunch of spiders were in a pile of leaves that someone had dumped. I’d thought they were Pardosa at the time, but a closer look at the photos suggest Schizocosa juveniles. So, I found all four of the most prevalent genera in Milam County on my tour.

The H. incognita find was of interest. Although it seems to be mostly a Blackland species, this personally confirms it is present elsewhere, which I already figured would be true from other people’s observations. Nevertheless, its range may stop abruptly at the Brazos River. I’ll be testing that out in the next few months when they are active.

Here are some more wolf spiders to practice on. All photos by Eric Neubauer.

July in the Garden

by Catherine Johnson

Last weekend, Bird and Bee Farm reopened again after selling out twice. A diversity of customers from Houston, Dallas and surrounding counties came, all practicing safety rules. 

The ducks and some guineas were a popular attraction.

Some plants were for sale, while the Master Naturalist table gave away nature books donated by Donna Lewis as well as nature brochures.

Plants and books for sale.

The highlight for me was giving the first tours of the Milam Wildscape.

One gentleman said the giant hibiscus was the prettiest flower he had ever seen. A Houston firefighter is coming back in the fall for native plants from the garden. 

hibiscus flower
The beautiful hibiscus flower

I will send out notices on future events and the next quail release. Enjoy some more photos from around the garden, until next time!

One More News Item

Remember when we released quail into the rehabilitated prairie area? They must be doing well, because we found eggs!

Bobwhite eggs. Such a great sign.

Quail Release

by Ann Collins and Catherine Johnson

Catherine Johnson and I had a spectacularly rare treat this week. We were visiting the Bird and Bee Farm, where Catherine has created a marvelous wildflower garden. If you haven’t seen it, you really must go. It is full of color, texture, and scents. Guinea fowl and chickens roam free, gobbling up grasshoppers and other noxious critters. Catherine even shares the overflow (flowers, not grasshoppers!).

Bobwhite quail. Image by @JBL via Twenty20

Gene and Cindy Rek have turned their hundred-acre property into a prairie paradise. You may already know they sell laying hens of every description. They also sell Rio Grande turkeys, guinea fowl, and Peking ducks.* This week they added another member of the feather family: Bobwhite Quail.

After an early morning trip to Bastrop, they came back with two flax boxes with breathing holed punched in them. Inside were thirty pairs of breedign quail. Gene carried the boxes out in some tall grass and gently set them down. He cut the strings on box #1 and carefully lifted the lid, revealing an almost-solid carpet of mottled brown feathers.

Just as we were taking in the scene, it suddenly erupted and flew away. Not at all what I was expecting!

Here’s what we saw:

The next box we were somewhat prepared for, but it was just as exciting when it was opened and thirty quail breathed a sigh of ecstasy and got their first taste of prairie freedom.

While we stood, adjusting to this miracle of Nature, the birds immediately started calling to one another with their signature whistle of, “Bob White!”

Later we saw several of them on the pond margins, trying to make sense of this incredible gift they had been given. Hopefully, most will survive to repopulate an area that was once their native habitat before every scrap of nature was cleared away for cattle, monocultures, and civilization, before pesticides, GMOs, and chemicals.

This is supposedly quail. Photo by @Tereza via Twenty20

These birds were all full grown, but future plans include day-old chicks to be raised in the barn and released later this summer.

There will be a coming out party when they are old enough, and all of you are invited to the celebration. Cindy will let us know when it is. It will be fun: a step back in time and a step forward toward restoration of a native prairie, right here in Milam County.

Mark your calendars!


*The farm is open only by appointment, and they are booked many weeks ahead. Please call them at (512) 808-8533 to reserve an opening! You can drop by and look at the gardens at any time.

Monarch Training at Bird and Bee Farm

The meeting was held in the chidken building. They did a great job on the projector screen!

Last time, we told you about the Wildscape program at Bird and Bee Farm. They also sponsor educational events, and our members attended a training on raising monarchs for release there on Sunday, March 3. It was presented by Karen and Steve Thier of Plano. We were also joined by monarch expert Bob Mione.

Bob Mione answers a question from the audience.

Bob brought a group of Master Naturalists from the Dallas area, who joined seven El Camino Real members and some curious neighbors for a total of 23 attendees. Catherine Johnson of the El Camino Real chapter served as the host for the event, along with the Reks, who own the farm.

Catherine Johnson introduces Steve Thier

Steve Thier gave a complete overview of the butterfly propagation (if that’s the right word) project that he and Karen have been working on for the past year, which has resulted in them releasing many butterflies, not only monarchs. They have also raised queens, swalllowtails and others.

Continue reading “Monarch Training at Bird and Bee Farm”