Spider Piggy-Back Rides

22 Jun
Lycosidae wolf spider mom with eggs

Wolf spider mother with egg sac.

I picked up this large mama wolf spider with her egg sac while out doing field work.  The trip home apparently disturbed her, because I was disappointed to see she dropped her egg sac and apparently abandoned it.  Then a few days later it vanished.  Then she constructed a refuge of webbing coated in dirt and debris and closed herself in.  A few more days later I noticed she had an egg sac again–and it was bigger than ever.   Intrigued, I sent the picture above to friend and former post-doc in my lab Shawn Wilder.  Shawn introduced me to working with fire ants and also happens to have done his Ph.D. work on sexual cannibalism in wolf spiders.

Shawn had this to say:

Beautiful spider.  It looks like the genus Hogna, most likely Hogna carolinensis (they’re one of the more common big Hogna in Texas).   I studied Hogna helluo for my Ph.D. but they’re not quite as pretty as carolinensis because helluo doesn’t have the mottling on the legs.
That’s typical Hogna behaviour.  They will build a silk-lined burrow and will eat their egg sacs if they lose sight of them and refind them.  It looks like she is trying to warm up her egg sac in the sun. That’s a mega-huge egg sac she has.  It should be very fun when the babies crawl out and onto her body because when there are tons of babies the mom has to use her pedipalps like windshield wipers to keep the babies away from her eyes!
I had managed to completely forget that wolf spider mothers carry their babies around on their backs so I was pretty psyched.  And mama spider delivered this week.
Lycosidae piggy back rides from mom.

Mother wolf spider with a back full of baby spiders.

Shawn also pointed out that the spiderlings don’t need to eat at this point.  For a week or two they ride around on their protective mother, clinging to special barbed hairs, and then gradually begin to disperse.  Every so often a few spiderlings will drop off and walk away from the mother, providing a very effective way for the young to disperse over a wide area in nature.  Of course, if sufficiently disturbed the spiderlings may scatter early–probably accounting for urban legends of wolf spiders that “explode into little spiders” when stepped on.

Lycosidae spider covered in little spiders.

Close up of mother wolf spider carrying babies.

Lycosidae newly hatched wolf spiderling on finger.

One of the spiderlings explores a finger.

Lycosidae Baby Wolf Spider

Newly emerged wolf spiderling under 80x magnification

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One Response to “Spider Piggy-Back Rides”

  1. JennJenn June 6, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    She IS beautiful. She must be effective pest control for you because she appears to be very well fed! I found your post because I made a new friend a few moments ago while working in the yard. I was gathering leaves from a wooded area on our property to mulch my flowerbeds. “Momma Spider” was about to relocate to my garden as I collected her while gathering leaves without knowing. As I had just about emptied my wheelbarrow, with my pitchfork, when the light rain suddenly became a downpour. I had noticed her by her white egg sack that contrasted against the brown leaves, and I could tell she was frantic. She slid out of sight under the collecting water in the bottom of my wheelbarrow…I felt responsible for her unfortunate situation and sorry that she had probably already been frightened by being scooped up in my raking. Now she was in danger of drowning. I quickly turned over the wheelbarrow hoping she wouldn’t wind up being washed away by the small current that was then running along the side of my driveway. (I actually cried out loud, “Momma Spider!” – I know, I’m such a childish forty year old.) I searched for her, vowing to tend to her egg sack if I found her lifeless body. To my relief and joy, I found her clinging to a leaf for dear life, but she was still in danger of the torrential downpour. So, I grabbed a twig and placed it in front of her. She must have sensed my desire to help her, because she climbed on immediately and walked about halfway up it as I stood up. I love spiders, but I’m not really keen on them climbing on my skin so I was a bit worried she’d keep walking. She halted at the center. The rain was coming down in sheets and I fanned out my rain poncho over the stick to protect M.S. from being knocked off, and briskly walked her up to my garage. I laid the stick down in a flower pot with leaf litter and dry soil, and took a seat in the folding chair beside it. About a half hour has passed, and M.S. seems quite content (or traumatized), since she has only moved to clean her face and perch at the end of the twig, actually turning around to face me (probably a coincidence, right?) As a mother myself, I have a lot of respect for her. She held onto that egg sac throughout her entire ordeal. The rain has finally quelled, and I have to finish my yardwork before the sun sets. M.S. just decided to get moving too. We’re two busy ladies I guess…a woman’s work is never done!

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