If you’re not from there, you might think Australia is a bit of a scary place given they have spiders so big they eat possums and even the trees are trying to kill you. But among some of its most fierce and impressive species, you also find ones that are completely adorable (some of which even glow!). In the same week that Sydney awaits a veritable tsunami of funnel-web spiders, a new and incredibly adorable species of peacock spider has been described. With the characteristic peacock spider eyes and an orange and white-striped face, the eight-legged floof has been named after the popular Disney Pixar movie, Finding Nemo.
Maratus nemo, as it has been scientifically named, was discovered scrabbling around Mount McIntyre and Nangwarry, South Australia. This particular peacock spider is a fitting tribute to Nemo in more ways than one, as in the wild it inhabits marshy vegetation in wetlands – a surprisingly moist choice of habitat compared to most members of its genus.
M. nemo was described by arachnologist Joseph Schubert of Museums Victoria, whose findings were published in the journal Evolutionary Systematics. The first to find it was citizen scientist Sheryl Holliday, who spotted the vibrant specimen while walking in Mount Gambier.
“He had a plain back but his orangey-red face is what stood out and I hadn’t seen anything like it before, so I knew it had to be a new one," said Holliday, who is a fan of the specimens given name. “The fact that I was doing some fish sampling out at Mount Burr Swamp where I found them, it just fits.” Holliday posted photos of the charismatic critter on Facebook, which is how Schubert first laid eyes on the new species.
Having discovered his first new species of Maratus in 2016, Schubert is something of a big name among arachnologists. Previous aesthetically pleasing finds include the Starry Night spider, named in honor of the Van Gogh painting it resembles. Peacock spiders are generally given the best PR among eight-legged arachnids, with the second biggest forward-facing eyes of all spiders (the ogre-faced spider tops the chart for massive googlies) and being small in size. M. nemo is about the size of a grain of rice, a perspective that’s all the more adorable given – like all peacock spiders – the male performs a little dance while trying to impress a mate.
In his paper, Schubert recognizes the role invertebrate photographers play in aiding the discovery of new species of spider. Invertebrate photography makes visible the tiny interactions going on sometimes right under our noses which mostly go undetected by the naked human eye. A particularly enlightening series won photographer Ripan Biswas an award at the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year, focusing on the life (and grisly deaths) of weaver ants.