Wolf spiders are capable of making hiss-like sounds, so it's possible to hear one before seeing it. Credit: Courtesy of Griffin Dill

Not every spider sits in the middle of its web or drops down from above on a string of silk. In Maine, there are spiders that also jump and spiders that make hissing-like sounds.

While neither is poisonous, coming across either can be a bit startling.

Fall is a time of year when you are likely to see a lot of spiders. Not only is it the mating season, but they may also be coming into your house looking for a warm place — and food — to spend the coming winter.

Among the spiders commonly found in Maine is the wolf spider, a rather athletic spider that is a ground dweller, according to Jim Dill, pest management specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Instead of catching flies in a web, the wolf spider hunts and runs down its prey, including small bugs and even other spiders. They have excellent night vision and because they make a hiss-like sound, they are among the so-called hissing spiders.

“Hissing is kind of a misnomer,” Dill said. “What they do is actually called strigulation, like crickets do when they rub their legs together.”

In the case of a wolf spider, it makes sound by rubbing its front legs together.

“Those front legs have hairs that are best compared with Velcro with little hooks on the end,” Dill said. “Some people say it sounds like a hiss when they hear it.”

The behavior is partly a defense strategy and, for the male spiders, mating behavior. In fact, they will turn up the volume during mating season by rubbing their legs while sitting in a pile of dry leaves, according to Dill.

“The rustling of the leaves helps them make more noise,” Dill said.

Wolf spiders can be aggressive to humans if they feel threatened or get picked up.

“Any spider can be dangerous if you try to manhandle it,” Dill said. “The wolf spider does have a venom it injects into its prey to dissolve it to make a nice wolf spider smoothie to suck in.”

That venom can cause a reaction in humans, especially to anyone allergic to it. A greater concern, according to Dill, is the bacteria present on the spider’s mandibles.

“Because they feed on lots of insects and spend time on the ground, those mandibles are pretty dirty,” Dill said. “There can be a danger of secondary infection.”

Wolf spiders prefer to run away, but will rear up on their hind legs and wriggle their front ones at you if cornered, Dill said.

“They can be the size of a quarter,” he said. “So it can be pretty scary.”

At least they don’t jump like several other varieties of spiders in Maine do.

Jumping spiders are not aggressive and have even been described as friendly. That’s due partly to their behavior and partly to appearance. They have large eyes and their front leg movements make it look like they are waving at you. Like the wolf spiders, they are ground dwellers.

“For the most part, these are fairly small spiders,” Dill said. “They just walk along and all of a sudden jump on their prey.”

Jumping spiders are very attracted to concrete steps, Dill said. So it’s not unusual if you are sitting on your steps to see them darting out of the shadows to jump on their prey.

“They are less aggressive than the wolf spiders,” Dill said. “They will move sideways or backwards to get away so they are kind of neat in that way.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.