The Garden (or Australian) Wolf Spider, Lycosa godeffroyi, from family Lycosidae, is one of the most common Australian species of wolf spider. According to the CSIRO, its distribution includes southern and eastern mainland Australia, and is found in suburban gardens and lawns, paddocks and open grassland.
I am fortunate to have been able to observe these interesting spiders in my backyard. A mature female can have a body length (excluding legs) of close to 30mm, with the male smaller, but not excessively smaller like many other common spider species.
A large mature female wandering at night
Notice the stance of the spider in the image above, with body held above the ground. This is the usual position of a spider waiting for prey to venture within pouncing distance. If the spider is disturbed by moving objects larger than prey-size, it will spread its legs, drop its body onto the ground and remain motionless.
Also notice in the photo above, the long narrow leg-like palps (feelers) tucked under the front of the spider. The narrowness of the palps indicates that the spider is a female. A male's palps will have a bulb-like knob on the end.
A female Wolf Spider at her burrow entrance
A female will excavate a vertical burrow in the ground up to 20mm wide. According to studies (not my studies, as I do not interfere with the spiders), the burrow is 100 to 150mm deep with a horizontal tunnel leading off the base of the burrow. The total absence of scattered earth from the excavation process intrigues me.
The burrow is often lined with fine silk, and although the Garden Wolf Spider does not construct a lid for its burrow, the entrance is sometimes covered with a fine silk layer (see image below). However, a burrow is not always constructed, with spiders utilising abandoned spider or insect burrows, or sheltering under stationary objects.
A silk-covered burrow, with hind leg of Wolf Spider cradling her egg sac
A female Garden Wolf Spider has strong maternal instincts, investing an unusual amount of energy in protecting the egg sac and giving her young a good start in life.
The male is attracted to the female scent and will perform courtship rituals outside the female's burrow at night. I have not witnessed this display.
Following mating, the female will construct a papery silk ball-shaped receptacle 8 to 10mm diameter to hold her eggs. She will then cart her pale blue or white egg sac with her, attached to spinnerets (silk spinning organs).
The female carries her egg sac. Notice the visible 'seam' of the paper-like silk egg sac.
After 2 or 3 weeks the spiderlings will be developed and the female will rip open her egg sac. The spiderlings will immediately climb onto the abdomen of their mother and cling to her, sometimes several deep, on her usual hunting activities. During this time, the hatchlings will not eat, but may drink from morning dew. Following their first moult at a few days of age, the spiderlings will disperse by ballooning away on silk threads, or by wandering off.
Wolfie mum and kids in my garden
During summer I often wandered my backyard at night by torchlight hoping to observe this spectacle, without success. However, I encountered this dedicated mother as I pulled a clump of milk thistle from my garden. A truly amazing sight! Notice the spiderlings even clinging to the underside of the abdomen below the back leg.
Garden Wolf Spiders are mainly, but not strictly, nocturnal hunters, preying on insects and invertebrates. They have excellent eyesight, are lightning fast, agile and strong. I have also observed them jumping a distance of about 20cm and springing from the ground onto vertical surfaces pursuing prey. They are, indeed, impressive hunters.
A well-camouflaged Garden Wolf Spider
If a Wolf Spider is caught out of its burrow or shelter during daylight, it is a master of disguise. In the photograph above, you will notice the spider has positioned its hind legs over its abdomen to break up its round body shape, virtually disappearing into the grass.
If caught out on an exposed surface like concrete (as in the picture below), they will often assume the curled-up position of a dead spider. This spider sprung to life when tickled with a piece of grass.
Garden Wolf Spiders do not always wander off to hunt, but often lurk in the darkness of their burrow entrance awaiting prey to venture within striking range. I watched this Wolfie spring from the cover of a ground-hugging plant to grab a hapless spider.
Wolfie eats spider
I'm sure, now, you will agree that the common Garden Wolf Spider is a fascinating and impressive backyard animal. They rarely enter homes, and are rarely agressive. If approached slowly and with care and consideration, they can be observed at length. And what a fabulous observation subject they make!