Conservation news

7 new brilliantly-colored peacock spiders discovered

  • The seven newly described spiders have striking patterns on their backs.
  • One spider, Maratus vespa, has a distinct pattern on its tail flap that resembles the outline of a wasp.
  • Another spider, Maratus bubo, seems to have the face of a horned owl inscribed on its back.

Remember Sparklemuffin and Skeletorus, two vividly colored peacock spiders that became Internet sensations last year?

Now, researchers have discovered and named seven new species of these colorful tiny arachnids in Australia.

The discoveries boost the total number of known peacock spiders to 48, researchers write in a new study published in the journal Peckhamia. The status of an additional 16 species is yet to be confirmed, they add.

Known only from Australia, peacock spiders are miniscule, measuring just a few millimeters in length. Despite being tiny, these spiders have very elaborate dance moves that they use to attract mates. Just like a male peacock that spreads and vibrates its striking tail of long iridescent feathers to charm a peahen, a male peacock spider unfurls its brilliantly-hued tail flap, vibrates its abdomen and lifts its legs alternately in an enticing dance routine to attract a partner.

Photographer and biologist Jürgen C. Otto, and spider expert David Knowles, discovered six of the seven newly described spiders in the southern coast of Western Australia and South Australia in 2015.

“These new discoveries give me hope that there are still more out there, in particular in that part of the continent,” Otto told Mongabay.

Newly discovered Maratus vespa is named after the patterns on its back that resembles a wasp. Photo by Jürgen C. Otto.

Following the discoveries, Otto, and co-author David Hill, named the new species based on how they looked or where they had been discovered. For example, they named the first species they discovered — Maratus vespa — after the Latin word for wasp. A distinct pattern on the spider’s tail flap resembles the outline of a wasp.

“The pattern that resembles the face of a wasp came completely as a surprise,” Otto said. “The behaviour of M. vespa also is also something I am excited about. The way the male mesmerizes the female and keeps her interested by rotating his abdomen from side to site is unique.”

Similarly, Otto said that the coloration of M. bubo, another spider they discovered, is “just spectacular”.

M. bubo seems to have the face of a horned owl inscribed on its back. The striking blue and red pattern appears to resemble the eyes, beak and ears of an owl, Otto said.

In addition to M. vespa and M. bubo, Otto and Hill have also described M. albus, M. lobatus, M. tessellatus, and M. vultus in their paper. The seventh new peacock spider included in the study — M. australis — had been previously photographed but not formally named until now.

The pattern on M. bubo’s back resembles an owl. Photo by Jürgen C. Otto.

At the moment, the conservation status of these spiders is still unknown, according to Otto. “Almost everything we know about peacock spiders is only a few years old, so it is difficult to say anything about their status,” he said.

But unlike most spiders, peacock spiders have an expanding fan-base. This is mainly because peacock spiders are “cute, colorful and harmless”, Otto said.

“What surprises people also is their size,” he added. “They don’t expect something that small to have courtship rituals that are similar to birds of paradise. Everything about these spiders is quite unbelievable and when people realize that they actually exist they simply fall in love.”

Otto loves peacock spiders, and his endeavors to share his love have been a hit so far. His YouTube channel dedicated to these furry arachnids has more than 16,000 followers with one of his videos garnering over five million views. His Facebook page, too, is popular, with nearly 69,000 followers.

Otto hopes that people will learn to respect these fascinating creatures.

“I hope that people will not only love these spiders but also respect them, meaning not to collect them and watch them in the wild rather than making them pets,” he said. “That is something I think I may focus a bit more in future. We owe it to these spiders.”

 

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