It’s a field day out there for spider enthusiasts and experts as new species of uniquely named peacock spiders have been discovered in Australia.
Peacock spiders, which belong to the family of jumping spiders, have male members that are noted for their distinct courtship rituals. These mating dances involve lifting their leg to a female as well as displaying a fan marked with a colored pattern.
Growing between 0.1 to 0.3 inches, these spiders are named for their bright, peacock-like colors. They were first found in the 1800s but remain largely mysterious to biologists until recently.
The Skeletorus (Maratus sceletus), with its white stripes, and the Sparklemuffin, (Maratus jactatus) with its flamboyant red-and-blue stripes, were discovered in February 2015. Now, seven more peacock spiders have been added to the list of these “fairly cute” arachnids.
The seven new species were discovered by Sydney-based biologist Jürgen Otto, who has been studying the spiders since 2005 and first came across one at the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of the Australian city.
“I’m always looking on the ground when I walk around, mostly for mites and other small things, and I almost stepped on this little spider,” he said in a Guardian report. “That’s what started my passion.”
The discovery of the seven new species from Western and South Australia was detailed in a paper Otto co-authored with David Hill and published on May 22 in the journal Peckhamia. According to the scientist, there are now 48 confirmed peacock spider species in the genus Maratus.
The seven new species are the Maratus albus, Maratus australis, Maratus bubo, Maratus lobatus, Maratus tessellatus, Maratus vespa and Maratus vultus.
“[There are] an additional 16 species presently placed in that genus that require further study before they can be confirmed or placed in a different genus,” wrote the researchers.
Otto previously witnessed a male peacock spider perform a mating dance, which started when the male approached his potential mate within an inch or so. According to Otto, the spinnerets - the spider's silk-spinning organs - were extended and flicked around at a great speed, while one of the spider's legs flexed as if it was showing off its muscles.
The spiders’ bright markings on the body, while making them more visible to their predators, offer the compensatory benefit of enhanced mating, biologists theorize.
Otto, who works as the national mite specialist at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, has earned a sizable following online for his work on these spiders. His Facebook page dedicated to these creatures has more than 61,000 followers, while one of his YouTube videos has at least 5.4 million views.