In looking at both a wolf spider and hobo spider, it is not difficult to see how the two may be confused. Because their size and coloration can vary, sometimes deeper investigation is needed for proper identification.
In general, both types of spiders appear hairy and brown, with a striped marking down their dorsal side. The hairs on the hobo spider are rather fine and difficult to see without magnification. The wolf spider tends to be larger, especially when including its legs.
Both spiders have eight eyes, though they appear in different formations. This characteristic may also be difficult to see without magnification.
Hobo spiders mainly inhabit the Pacific Northwest region of the United States (though their presence does seem to be expanding) and the wolf spider is more widespread throughout the U.S. and Canada.
However, the real differences between these two spiders can be seen in their behaviors and habitats.
To begin with, hobo spiders create funnel-shaped nests with the narrower end funneling into a protected area, like a crevice. These nests are usually built near the ground in wood piles, gardens, under rocks or sheds, or in tall vegetation. If they are encountered indoors, hobo spiders are usually in damp areas like basements and are typically seen at ground level because they are poor climbers. They use their webs to catch prey and dart out from the funnel end to grab it when movement is detected.
On the other hand, wolf spiders do not create webs or nests. Rather, they will dig a shallow burrow in the ground, sometimes under a rock, log or other item that protects them. The only silk that may be visible in their nest is to cover the opening, though sometimes the spiders do not do this. Unlike the hobo, the wolf spider hunts for its prey and goes out in search of it. The wolf spider can be seen in places like grassy areas, under rocks, decks, or among leaves. Some wolf spiders will ambush prey when it happens by while others will chase and attack it.
Wolf spiders are sometimes found indoors as well and are also encountered at ground level where they hunt. Both species are fast movers.
These spiders also differ in their reproductive habits. Female hobo spiders lay eggs in sacs that they attach to the web and then stand guard, whereas female wolf spiders carry the egg sac, which they attach to their spinnerets. When the young wolf spiders hatch, they will climb onto their mother's back, while hobo spiderlings do not do this.
The bite of the hobo spider is believed to be harmful to humans and may produce necrotic wounds, similar to those from a brown recluse. Wolf spider bites are not known to be dangerous and are about the equivalent of a bee sting, unless a person has an allergic reaction.
There are some physical characteristics, such as certain markings and coloration that help distinguish one species from the other and can be identified with close observation or magnification.