Back in 2008, whilst playing around with his flashy new camera lens in an Australian National Park, snap happy amateur photographer Stuart Harris turned his attention to a cute little critter perched on a bright yellow leaf. Little did he know that this striking blue and red arachnid was a previously undiscovered species of peacock spider.
Peacock spiders are tiny spiders measuring just 2-6 mm in length that belong to the genus Maratus. These spiders, which are endemic to Australia, are members of Salticidae family, which are the jumping spiders. While female peacock spiders are fairly plain, the males are decorated with strikingly colorful abdomen flaps that they flutter at females during courtship displays. So far, 43 species of peacock spider have been described, including Harris’ little gem.
When Harris returned from his trip, he uploaded his wonderful photo, as shown above, onto a social media site and immediately attracted a lot of interest. World-renowned jumping spider expert Dr Jurgen Otto soon became aware of Harris’ popular photo and contacted him. He’d never seen a peacock spider quite like it, but classifying it as a new species would require more than just a photograph. Harris was therefore assigned the rather daunting task of capturing a live specimen.
Harris spent two and a half years scouring the 1000 square-kilometer Namadgi bushland for the little guy before eventually hitting the jackpot. He managed to take another photo of the spider which was going about its daily business at Booromba Rocks. He then captured his find and took it to Dr Otto for examination.
His suspicions turned out to be correct and the new species was eventually named after its discoverer- Maratus harrisi. But Harris’ peacock hunter journey didn’t end there- since his initial discovery he has found two new species, one on Black Mountain and another in a vineyard in the Majura Valley. Let’s hope he keeps up this trend, because the world is a better place when it’s littered with pictures of these insanely beautiful spiders.
“I have a real sense of worth and achievement,” Harris told ABC Canberra. “It certainly gave me a personal boost, it’s high on the scale of things I’ve done in my life.”
[Via ABC Canberra]