Conservation news

Scientists have discovered six new dancing peacock spiders in Australia

  • One of the colorful new spiders, Maratus lincunxin, was named after Chinese-trained dancer and Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin.
  • Queensland Museum scientist Dr Barbara Baehr discovered Maratus lincunxin at Carnarvon Station in western Queensland and decided to name the species in honor of Li Cunxin after a visit to the ballet with her daughter.
  • Besides their dance moves, peacock spiders, which are jumping spiders endemic to Australia, are known for their colorful abdomens — Maratus lincunxin’s, for instance, is bright blue.

Six new species of peacock spiders have been discovered in Australia. The tiny spiders measure less than four millimeters in length, but make up for their diminutive size with vigorous, leg-waving mating dances that resemble intricate dance moves.

In fact, one of the colorful new spiders, Maratus lincunxin, was named after Chinese-trained dancer and Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin.

Queensland Museum scientist Dr Barbara Baehr discovered Maratus lincunxin at Carnarvon Station in western Queensland and decided to name the species in honor of Li Cunxin after a visit to the ballet with her daughter.

“As I sat and watched Queensland Ballet’s latest performance, I thought it was stunning, with a fairy-tale like essence that was so marvellous and sweet that it reminded me so much of the dancing of the peacock spiders,” Baehr said in a statement.

“It was then I decided I should name the spider after Li Cunxin, famous for his autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer, and his magnificent dancing skills, much like that of the peacock spider.”

Australia’s ABC News put together this GIF from videos of peacock spiders’ mating dances captured by scientist Jurgen Otto:

Li Cunxin said he was honored by the fact that a Queensland Ballet performance inspired the naming of the new species. “After watching its elaborate dance, I can see why Dr. Baehr was inspired by the graceful dancers in our Company,” he said in a statement.

“It is certainly heart-warming to know that our dancers can provide such inspiration to an individual and speaks volumes about the power of this beautiful art form.”

Besides their sweet dance moves, peacock spiders, which are jumping spiders endemic to Australia, are known for their colorful abdomens — Maratus lincunxin’s, for instance, is bright blue.

A scientific paper describing Maratus licunxin and the five other newly discovered peacock spiders will be published in the journal Zootaxa. In addition to Maratus licunxin, Maratus eliasi, Maratus michaelorum, and Maratus ottoi were all discovered in Queensland, while Maratus kiwirrkurra and Maratus julianneae were discovered in Western Australia.

Maratus licunxin. Photo Credit: Queensland Museum.
Maratus licunxin. Photo Credit: Queensland Museum.
Maratus ottoi. Photo by Michael Duncan.
Maratus ottoi. Photo by Michael Duncan.
Maratus eliasi. Photo by Michael Duncan.
Maratus eliasi. Photo by Michael Duncan.
Maratus ottoi. Photo by Micael Doe.
Li Cunxin and Barbara Baehr. Photo Credit: Queensland Museum.