Just a couple of weeks after showcasing “Skeletorus” and “Sparklemuffin” (honestly, we are not talking about children’s toys), the famous peacock spider pair Jurgen Otto and David Hill have gone and done it again, introducing yet another spectacular and previously unknown species: Maratus elephans. Descriptions of the animal have been published in the journal Peckhamia, but you can also gaze upon some stunning photos on Otto’s Flickr account or Facebook page.
Much scientific research would not be possible without the aid of fancy equipment and sophisticated technology, but while studying peacock spiders does not warrant snazzy microscopes or lab gadgets, our knowledge of his these tiny arachnids would be bare in the absence of two essential research aids: eyes like an eagle, and absolute dogged determination.
Otto spends his life scouring Australia’s landscapes, eyes peeled, attempting to gather specimens so that they can be officially described in the literature. These things may be eye-catching to look at, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they are easy to spot: These highly decorated, googly-eyed arachnids are only a few millimeters in length, and they’re extremely fast. Being members of the Salticidae family, or jumping spiders, they are very capable of darting out of view in the blink of an eye. But amazingly, Otto keeps surprising us with new discoveries, and we can’t get enough of them.
Otto actually first noted this beautiful species back in 2012 whilst going through pickled specimens preserved at the Australian Museum in Sydney. It didn’t take him long to suspect that two striking males among the collection were unknown to science due to their unique coloration and relatively large fan. These dazzling appendages, which give peacock spiders their name, were decorated with three red bands atop an iridescent blue background. As you can see from the photos, these distinctive patterns somewhat resemble an elephant’s face, which served as inspiration for their species name, elephans.
Although Otto already had his mitts on specimens, he told IFLScience he is a firm believer that photographing and documenting live individuals is important when describing a new species, especially since the fan of the male is folded underneath the body in dead specimens. So Otto took it upon himself to track down some living specimens and made five trips to the area in which the museum samples were collected from, which was near Tamworth in New South Wales. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a fruitless endeavor, so one year on he enlisted the help of fellow arachnid enthusiast Stuart Harris, who managed to locate two males and one female.
Armed with these specimens, Otto and Hill got to work on officially describing the new species, which brings the total number of members within the Maratus genus to 38, although Otto says there are at least a further 25 which have yet to be described. The spiders are a mere 4.5 mm in length and are thought to be closely related to two other equally magnificent species, M. Volans and M. pardus, all of which have similar decorations and courtship displays whereby the males wave their fans and third pair of legs at prospective mates.