Scintillating specks of emerald green, flashing to gold as you approach. Like jewels in the night, the eyes of roaming wolf spiders blink at you out of the darkness: tiny fires, kindled by the beam of a headlamp. Draw nearer, and each light continues to flash, until the light vanishes when you stand directly overhead. There, in the grass at your feet, is a nocturnal predator on the evening hunt. This nighttime safari can be repeated any rain-free summer evening, in woodlands and backyards. (After a rainstorm, the water droplets, too, reflect light back at you, confounding your quest).
The eye shine that seems, at a distance, to come from a single point, actually results from light bouncing off eight different eyes that are arranged in three rows. Wolf spiders have one row of small eyes in the front, with two larger eyes above them, and a third row of two more eyes located still further back on the head. Most, when placed under the light of a headlamp, will remain motionless, allowing excellent macro flash photographs to be taken.
Accompanying this article is a slide show , depicting some of the “big game” bagged on a couple evenings of backyard safaris. All of the spiders encountered were wolf spiders, solitary hunters that catch their prey while on the move, rather than spinning webs. They ranged in size from smaller than a dime to as large as a half-dollar. One was even carrying baby spiderlings on its back, a burden that somehow does not prevent the mother from remaining an effective predator of wandering insects. According to Spiders of the Carolinas by L. L. Gaddy, at least three species were likely encountered: lance wolf spiders (Schizocosa avida), like the one in the photograph above; rabid wolf spiders (Rabidosa rabida), and Carolina wolf spiders (Hogna carolinensis). Some identifications were tentative; even such an excellent resource as the Spiders of the Carolinas only covers six of the probably thirty or so species of wolf spider found in North and South Carolina, and there are possibly other wolf spiders present in Georgia but not found further north. Indeed, there are about 300 species of wolf spiders found across North America.
Next time there are reruns on the television and nothing happening on Facebook or Twitter, consider grabbing a headlamp and wandering outdoors. Flashes of colored light beckon you on to discovery and adventure, amongst the grass and leaves in your own backyard at night.
If you enjoyed this article, and would like to read more musings on Georgia natural history, please consider subscribing to the Atlanta Nature Examiner. There is no cost, and no information needed beyond an email address. Subscribers will be notified whenever a new Atlanta Nature Examiner article is published.