If the words new, jumping, and spider are making you think "Not now, Australia," rest assured this little newbie is not just adorable, but also only the size of a pea. Yes, many things in Australia may be out to get you, but not this guy.
When Amanda De George took some photos of a little jumping spider feeding on a juicy bug in her backyard in New South Wales, she had no idea she had just contributed to Australian taxonomy. Fast forward 18 months – including a 3.5-month search to find it again – and the little blue-faced wonder has been declared a news species of Jotus, a genus of the Salticidae (jumping spiders) family native to Australia.
De George, who runs Backyard Zoology documenting the amazing critters that live in the local area, has a particular fondness for jumping spiders, calling them the "gateway drug" to other spiders thanks to their special brand of cuteness. When she spotted this one on a bin lid, she didn't immediately notice the striking blue face as it was late afternoon, but grabbed her macro lens, took some photos, and posted them online. Then in June this year, she saw one again – no mean feat, these spiders are about 4 millimeters – this time in full sunlight.
"I almost didn't go back inside to get my camera but am so glad I did because this time in full Sun, this spider was absolutely stunning. He looked up at me with this electric blue face, palps, and eyes. I literally gasped," De George told IFLScience.
"I didn't even bother to get an ID straight away as I thought it would be pretty easy to ID through Google on account of its unique features. I had absolutely zero idea that I had actually found a species new to science!"
Luckily, Joseph Schubert, Museum Victoria's resident "spider-man", spotted the photos of the teeny spider and recognized instantly that this was an as yet undocumented species. "Some colleagues and I published a review of Jotus just last year, so all of the currently known species were fresh on my mind," Schubert told IFLScience. "There are no other known species with blue hairs on the clypeus like this one."
He asked Amanda if she'd happened to collect a specimen, and if not could she? So began a 3-month search, turning over leaves, rocks, and garden furniture, under pressure that a potential new species was lurking somewhere nearby. In the end, it was sheer luck she spotted one sunning itself on her deck, and she managed to grab a container and scoop it up to post off to Joseph to formally identify.
"I contacted Joseph straight away and he gave me instructions on how to safely post it, using tissue in the little specimen jar for the spider to nestle into and how to pack to ensure there was no movement in the box itself," Amanda explained.
Ironically, two days after posting the spider, she saw another one casually stroll across the dashboard of her car.
On receiving the precious cargo, Schubert was excited to confirm it was indeed a new species of Jotus, the very species he specializes in.
"Like most spiders, Jotus species can usually be told apart by the arrangement of their reproductive structures. This is why examining a physical specimen under the microscope is so important. Sometimes, like in the case with the species Amanda sent me, the males of Jotus can be distinguished by their color patterns," he told IFLScience. "I think it's an incredibly gorgeous animal with its flamboyant blue face."
Citizen science is more important now than ever; with lockdown measures preventing scientists from being out in the field, uploading photos of wildlife and couriering specimens across state lines may become the new normal. "Taxonomy Australia estimates that only 30 percent of all species in Australia have been discovered and named so far, so the chances of finding a spider species unknown to science are quite high," Schubert said.
Schubart is planning on writing a new paper officially describing this species. This isn't the first time he's described a new species of spider for science, though. In fact, he's named 17 so far. You may remember the beautiful "Starry Night" peacock spider from earlier this year, so named because of its resemblance to Van Gogh's masterpiece.
Around 4,000 spider species have scientific names in Australia, but it’s estimated about 10,000 species exist. There are plenty of citizen science websites to upload photos to, such as iNaturalist, should you come across anything curious in your own backyard. You never know, you may end up contributing to scientific knowledge.
"This honestly has been a bucket list moment for me," Amanda said. "I have this real love for wildlife, especially those often overlooked, those little lives around us, the animals that we tend to ignore because we see them all the time, and to think that I can help the body of scientific knowledge even though I'm just little ol' me, makes me super proud."
"Joseph, who is doing all the hard work in the describing, gets to do the naming so I'll leave it up to him. But Amanda is a lovely name," she added.