Rare spider found in southern Ohio

Absent from human view for more than a half century, the reclusive Carolina wolf spider (hogna carolinensis), largest of the North American wolf spiders, resurfaced from its distinctive burrow in southern Ohio Aug. 9, but it took a little coaxing.

The rare sighting by a naturalists marked the first confirmed sighting in the Buckeye state since 1963, according to arachnid expert Richard Bradley, an associate professor emeritus at Ohio State University.

"We were elated. It's like finding the peregrine falcon of the spider world," said Jim McCormac, a naturalist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, of finding the wily spider's distinctive underground burrow in a short-grass prarie, part of the 16,000-acrea Richard and Lucile Edge of Appalachia Preserve.

McCormac, along with local naturalists John Howard and David and Laura Hughes, were canvassing a prarie for evidence of Missouri wolf spiders when McCormac spotted what Howard described as a "gigantic hole," which McCormac suspected might be the distinctive large turreted burrow of a Carolina wolf spider.

Mr. Hughes had a flexible borescope, which the group inserted into the burrow and, as McCormac said, "voila," an eight-eyed Carolina wolf spider was in the den looking back at the scope. With some nudging with the scope, the spider surfaced, and McCormac took photos and a video. The rare spider was later confirmed by Bradley, who examined McCormac's photographs.

The group of naturalists made the discovery late in the afternoon, and the spider "wandered off," Howard said.

"They are known to do that, and we did not want to step on it," he said.

Howard called the find great, "but it is nothing new, as we find new things all the time down here."

McCormac attributed the rarity of the Carolina wolf spider because of changing habitats, and attributed the group's find to the Edge of Appalachia preserve "with its diverse and interesting habitat." The preserve is protected by the Ohio chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Cincinnati Museum Center. 

"The more protection we provide, the more opportunity we have to rediscover or find new things," said Richard McCarty, Edge of Appalachia preserve manager. "I like to use Forrest Gump's quote, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.' "

"I’m thrilled that Jim, John Howard and  David and Laura Hughes have re-found Hogna carolinensis," Bradley wrote in an e-mail. "I was expecting that someone would find this spider eventually."

Bradley started the Ohio Spider Survey as a “citizen science” public education and outreach project in 1994.

"I’m currently working on completing the data entry and identification of a remaining backlog," Bradley wrote.

The current database for the Ohio Spider Survey contains 17,171 records representing 41,024 specimens and 643 species, according to Bradley.

"Needless to say, when we failed to discover this species during the first few years of the Ohio Spider Survey effort, we were surprised," Bradley wrote.

Entomologist William Barrows, an OSU professor, compiled spider checklists in 1919 and 1924, which included a total of 306 species, Bradley wrote. Barows' comment on the Carolina wolf spider in 1919, Bradley noted, was "Probably the commonest burrowing spider in Ohio.  It makes its burrows in lawns, pastures, and the edges of fields.”  

The species, which can grow up to 3 to 4 inches long, was first described and categorized in 1805 in Europe by French scientist Charles Walckenaer.

Bradley said he was encouraged  by the rediscovery of the Carolina spider being spotted in Ohio.

"There are probably more,"  possibly in Amish country in northern Ohio, such as Holmes County, because of Amish farming practices.

Hunting at night, the Carolina wolf spider  stays near its burrow but can forage up to 10 feet, Bradley said, waiting to swiftly run down unsuspecting prey, injecting venom with its fangs and tugging victims back to the den for nighttime meals.

Targets range from large insects such as crickets and grasshoppers to rodents. The agile arachnid relies on vibration and its eight eyes, a bottom row of three, a middle row of two large eyes and a top row of two smaller eyes, to locateprey.

"They are an eight-legged cheetah," McCormac said, calling the Carolina Wolf Spider a "high-end predator."

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