Mary and I went on a little spider hunting loop yesterday, looking for Argiope. We took a southeastern route, heading off to Swift county, then detouring a bit south to clip through Chippewa county, then due east to Kandiyohi, and finally north and back west through Pope county to home. Our strategy was simple: drive through farm country on state and county roads, keeping an eye on the ditches that parallel all roads around here. When we saw lots of grass and brush filling the ditch, and when there was a safe place to pull over in the car, we’d stop and stroll about, looking for webs.
We really needed an “I Brake for Spiders” bumper sticker, because we were probably annoyingly slow. Good thing the roads were nearly empty!
One catch to this approach is that good grassy roadsides were scarce. Apparently, good Republican farmers have little to do and lots of tractors, so they trim everything. Have you ever seen a drainage ditch that looks like a manicured lawn? We did, everywhere. The best places had 1-2 meters of grass, where we’d walk in and be in the weeds to chest height or over our head. Actually, the best places were nature preserves and restored prairie.
We persevered, though, and found Argiope in every county we visited. They’re common, but they really don’t seem to like the kind of place where big bipedal mammals frequently bumble around. Living near people is OK, but they better not ever come over to visit.
So here’s one from Swift county:
Classic Argiope aurantia. Big, black and yellow, and a meter wide orb web with stabilimentum zig-sagging down the center.
Chippewa county is the emptiest place we visited, lacking any large towns and consisting of nothing but farms. They do have Argiope aurantia, though.
Kandiyohi county is kind of the inverse. It does contain one big town, Willmar, which was right in the way of our route, and Argiope does not like cities much. We finally found one as we were driving away by our usual expedient of pulling into farm access roads where the residents weren’t overzealous lawn fanatics.
We’d actually planned to hit up a couple more counties, but the weather turned grim, all gray and rainy. Even as I write this I’m listening to thunder. We’d decided to skip a northern loop of our drive and go home through Pope county, where we found Argiope trifasciata in a nature preserve.
One cool thing about this one is that there were two other webs in the same little patch, only a few centimeters away, and they were occupied by males, hopeful consorts I would guess.
We’re going to do it again next weekend, aiming for a western and northern loop, passing through Big Stone, Traverse, and Grant counties. Also on our list is another trip to the Ecostation in Ottertail county.