Last updated May 8, 2020 at 5:02 pm
Seven new species of peacock spiders – famous for their brightly coloured bodies and adorable looks – have been discovered across Australia.
Video courtesy of Museums Victoria
Why This Matters: Australian wildlife is ace.
The internet’s favourite spider – the peacock spider – now have seven additions to their family tree after new species were discovered across the south of Australia.
The colourful Maratus spiders, stars of memes and videos dancing to music, are unique to Australia. And like their famous cousins, the newly discovered species are no less colourful or adorable (as far as spiders go, your opinion may vary).
The new additions brings the total number of species within this genus to 85.
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Despite being only 22 years old, Joseph has now described a total of 12 species of peacock spiders. Given he grew up terrified of spiders, he’s now become a world leader in Maratus spider research.
Colourful spiders shake their groove thang
Peacock spiders are tiny – about the same size as a grain of rice. And while they’re not dangerous to humans, their venom and pouncing attack is often the death knell for small flies and insects. Unlike other spiders, peacock spiders don’t use webs to snare their prey, preferring instead to launch a sneak attack.
But what makes them famous, and fascinating, is their extremely brightly coloured bodies. Covered in iridescent colours, their butts form the centrepiece of their courtship display, where they ‘dance’ and wave their legs and body to attract a mate. That courtship dance has high stakes – female peacock spiders only mate once in their life and should the male choose the wrong target, she may eat the would be suitor.
These dance moves inspired Youtube videos the world over set to music.
The memes and videos launched their popularity to new levels – in 2011 only 7 species had been discovered. The new additions take the tally to 85, largely thanks to citizen scientists capturing photographs of the spiders in the bush.
Peacock spiders are a citizen scientists best friend
And while Schubert himself travelled across Australia in search of the new species – from the Little Desert in Victoria, to Western Australia, several of the new species also came from citizen scientists.
“Some of the species in this paper were discovered by citizen scientists who documented the localities and sent images to me – their help is so important for this kind of research,” he says.
Their small size make them difficult to find, with Schubert telling the ABC he spends a lot of time on his hands and knees chasing the spiders with his camera.
The new species are: Maratus azureus, Maratus constellatus, Maratus laurenae, Maratus noggerup, and Maratus suae from Western Australia, Maratus volpei from South Australia, and Maratus inaquosus from Victoria. The south-western corner of WA is considered a hotspot of Maratus species.
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The names take inspiration from the spider’s colouration, locality, or in honour of the people who discovered the species or have supported Joseph throughout his research.
“I would have to say Maratus constellatus is my favourite by far- it’s such a nice looking species, the pattern reminds me of The Starry Night by Van Gough. Plus I travelled a very, very long way to find it!”
“I don’t think we are anywhere near done yet, considering how many species have only recently been discovered and how many sites are yet to be explored – I’m still actively on the hunt for new species of peacock spider!”