Skeletorus and Sparklemuffin are two new peacock spiders recently discovered in Australia.
Peacock spiders are in the family of jumping spiders, and males of the species are noted for their distinctive mating dances. This behavior includes lifting a leg to a female, and displaying a fan, marked with distinctive stripes.
The spiders, which grow to between 0.1 and 0.3 inches in length, are named for their bright colors, which resemble peacocks. The first of these were discovered in the 19th Century, although they remained largely unstudied by biologists until recently.
Skeletorus (Maratus sceletus) features white stripes on a dark background, resembling a person wearing a skeleton costume. Members of the species are also marked by a small amount of blue on their abdomens.
Sparklemuffin (Maratus jactatus) displays bright red and blue stripes, unlike any other peacock spider. This colorful appearance is distinctive, but is not as different from other peacock spiders as Skeletorus.
"Despite the large number of species we have discovered just in the last few years, I can't help feeling that we may have just scratched the surface of this most exciting group of spiders, and that nature has quite a few more surprises in store," Jürgen Otto, an entomologist who photographs spiders, said.
Otto watched one male perform a mating dance, similar to other insects in the same group. The dance began when the male came within an inch or so of his potential mate.
"The spinnerets were extended and flicked around at an amazing speed, one of the legs was flexed like he wanted to show off his muscles, and he moved constantly from one side of the grass blade to the other," Otto said.
Bright markings of peacock spiders may make them more visible to predators than they would be, if their coatings were a solid color. However, this evolutionary disadvantage could be compensated for by increased mating, researchers theorize. Reproduction is among the most-important of all forces in shaping evolution of species.
"[S]trong selection pressures often lead to extreme adaptations in physiology, morphology, and behavior," Madeline Girard, who discovered the new species, told the press.
Skeletorus was named after Skeletor, the primary antagonist in the Masters of the Universe series of cartoons, which also feature He-Man. The fictional villain has a skull for a face, and is dressed in blue and purple, with his head partly covered by a hood.
Discovery of the two new species of peacock spiders was detailed in the journal Peckhamia.