Looking for Argiope in West Central Minnesota


Sorry, but I didn’t include the photos here, which are all closeups of great big hairy spiders with bold coloring. The complete illustrated story is on Patreon, and the photos are on two posts on Instagram.

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.

Comments

  1. jrkrideau says

    Have you ever seen a drainage ditch that looks like a manicured lawn?

    Only as part of someone’s lawn. could it be that is is an attempt to keep mosquitoes at bay?

  2. dbinmn says

    Thoughts on Ditch Mowing from a Central MN Resident:
    1. Even though many farmers claim to be “sportsmen” and claim to support hunting rights, they mow the ditches early and often which affects nesting birds particularly pheasant. And as an aside, many of these same men who tile and drain wetlands still show up at the Ducks Unlimited banquet every year. Obviously they are only interested in the all-you-can-eat chicken and a chance at winning a shotgun in the raffle (or the AR-15 as has become vogue lately).
    2. They don’t own the ditch but will defend their squatters’ rights to the end. A new landowner friend got a visit once from a farmer who was angry she allowed a family member to mow the ditch next to the land she just purchased. Apparently, “I’ve always mowed it!!!” is a legal concept out here.
    3. Finally, if you buy hay bails for livestock, demand that it not be from ditches (though you’ll still get cheated). When you pop open the bail, out will come garbage, plastic bottles and bags, and a lot of dust and dirt.

  3. blf says

    Keeping drainage ditches and similar clear is fairly important in this area, due to the risk of fire during the hot dry summer months.

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