Peacock spiders of the genus Maratus are tiny jumping spiders barely four millimeters in length that are endemic to Australia. 53 species of Maratus spiders have been named as of 2015, 20 of which were recently discovered by researcher Jürgen Otto and his team. Though extremely small, these little jumping spiders make up for it with their spectacular colors and mating dances. It’s the males who are really the stars of the show. Females are all dull brown in color and don’t perform any sort of courtship display. They just watch and judge as the little males strut their stuff, trying to win some love.
Males are equipped with elongated third legs which they wave and vibrate in accompaniment with their dance. The back of the abdomen is covered with a flap (which I like to refer to as the “butt flap”) containing brightly colored scales that form special patterns in separate species. These are held up over their heads like miniature peacock tails as they dance around in front of their potential mates. As a male dances, he slowly and cautiously approaches the female and gently places his front legs on her head. If he’s lucky, he will get to mate with her. If not, he must get away quickly to avoid being eaten. These displays can last anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour!
Just recently, three new specie, M. jactatus, M. sceletus, and M. elephans were discovered. M. jactatus has been affectionately nicknamed “Sparklemuffin” by the graduate student who discovered it.
Peacock spiders have also been known as “flying” spiders because of their special flaps. This was because they were first falsely thought to use these flaps as wings to glide through the air, much like a flying squirrel. However, it has since been observed that they engage in no such behavior. When they jump, their flaps have no significant effects on their speed or trajectory. In fact, courtship is the only activity where these flaps are unfolded. One species, M. vespertilio, is an exception and displays his fan while sparring with other males. None of the other species have shown these male to male contests yet and this behavior was discovered accidentally while filming was taking place.
These spiders are a perfect example of all the bizarre and amazing creature that we still haven’t found. It is amazing that something so tiny possesses such complex, fascinating, and adorable behavior. Until peacock spiders were observed, scientists had no idea that spiders displayed to each other like this. This just goes to show that there will always be more to learn and every tiny creature that we find is worth protecting. Continue reading