Plants and Animals

New Species Of Peacock Spider Described

May 6, 2014 | by Justine Alford

Photo credit: Jurgen Otto.

Something tells me that if all spiders looked as awesome as peacock spiders, far fewer people would be terrified of them. How could you gaze into those big googly eyes and not absolutely fall in love?

Male peacock spiders are mesmerizingly beautiful, exhibiting incredibly decorated abdomen fans that they show off to females during courtship rituals. Each different species has been found to display a unique combination of impressive colors and patterns on these appendages. And to add to the current list of these awesome spiders is the newly described jumping peacock spider Maratus pardus from Western Australia.

Image credit: Jurgen Otto

Males are around 4-4.5mm long and show off a striking pale blue fan, adorned with between 14 to 18 orange blotches bordered by yellowish stripes. This unique spotty pattern, coupled with its cat-like movements used to pounce on prey, served as inspiration for its name; pardus is based on the Ancient Greek word for leopard. Females are slightly larger are more bland in coloring, typically black, brown and white. 

This stunning creature was actually first discovered in 1994 at Cape Le Grand in Western Australia, but has now been formally described in the journal Peckhamia by biologist Jurgen Otto and the editor of the journal David Hill. According to Otto, although the distinct spotty pattern is unique to this species, the cat-like behavior is in fact shared by all jumping spiders when they approach prey.

So far, 27 species of peacock spider have been described, and they’re all exclusively found in Australia. They also all partake in majestic courtship rituals that involve the male parading around the female, boasting his ornate fan and sticking his legs in the air like a champion. He makes sure that he doesn’t take his eyes off the prize during the display, partly to demonstrate his dedication, but also to pick up tell-tale signs that the female might attack. As is the case with many spiders, females can become pretty hostile if they’re not interested.

Otto managed to catch some truly incredible footage of the males strutting their stuff in order to woo potential mates, which is shown in the video below.

As shown in the footage, often the males were unsuccessful in their attempts and the female would either escape or attack, probably because she was already pregnant, says Otto. “Sometimes the males still keep pursuing them (god knows why), [but] sometimes they get the message,” he added.

The courtship ritual also goes further than meets the eye. “All peacock spiders produce sound during their display, and the visual part is only one component, but we are unable to hear it,” says Otto.  

Why can't the spiders that hide in my bathtub all look like this? 

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