A blog focused on nature, science, environmental topics, and happenings at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

This spider will become far less scary when I tell you it is barely an inch long. I found it on the top of a cardboard box delivered to my door. I tilted the box and the spider crawled away. No spiders or humans were injured. 

I had no intention of touching it or trying to get it to crawl into my hand. I learned better recently from the sting I received from the quill of what I assumed was a harmless green caterpillar. Moreover, I feared this was a dangerous brown recluse spider. It was brown. It had a design on its back as I vaguely remembered of recluses. 

I was wrong again. Brown wolf spiders are often mistaken for recluses, whose back design is violin-shaped and similar to the wolf’s stripes. A conclusive fact is that the nearest habitat for a recluse is near Cincinnati. 

The wolf spider will bite if provoked, its venom no more dangerous than a bee’s. I assumed picking it up might be considered a provocation. I let it dismount from the box at its own pace. 

Wolf spiders like woodpiles and outdoor lights that attract prey. The female carries eggs and young on her back, and has excellent vision from two large eyes and six small ones. It does not spin a web, finding its food by outrunning it, which is why it is named for the wolf. Males live a year, females two or three. 

Its primary defense is camouflage, its brown coloring blending into woodpiles and cardboard boxes. It also helps to look similar to a very venomous spider. The wisest way to interact with a wolf spider is to leave it alone. I’m discovering this is the wisest approach to many plants and animals of the forest. 

I learned long ago, during my years in Manhattan, that “leave it alone” is also wise when encountering members of one’s own species. This is especially advisable for those of us who have relatively weak stings and depend on trying to look more venomous than we are.

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