Earth.

Delightful dancing Peacock Spiders

Hiding in plain view, on a rock near his home, Stuart Harris found an intriguing spider.

_X8A5034 peacock spider Maratus pardus

Maratus pardus a species known form only 2 sites in Western Australia via Flickr .

 

That spider changed his life. For this was no ordinary spider on a rock. Not your average brown hairy arachnid scurrying across the ground or a menacing agitated Huntsman, hooked fangs bared, ready to pounce. It was a member of a strikingly beautiful group of spiders, the Peacock Spiders. There are around 60 species and these tiny creatures are found only in Australia.

 

Discovery of new species.

Stuart immediately recognised the intricate beauty  of this spider. He posted an image online and shortly after received a response from one of Americas leading spider experts suggesting that he had probably found a new species.

Enthused and elated by his discovery Stuart went out again to relocate that tiny spider on the rock. But it was quite a journey form that original photo to its recognition as a new species, in fact it was several years. That discovery opened up a whole new world for him and changed his entire outlook on the natural world and his place within it.

 

Maratus harrisi, Harris’s Peacock Spider poised in courtship mode  via Flickr.

 

Stuart doesn’t have a family of his own but brims with pride that his family name has been immortalised by this little spider. He reckons that his grandmother, who raised him after his mother passed away when he was 9, would be equally proud that his wandering through the bush has led to this discovery and that his story of discovery has inspired others. As Stuart says, I wasn’t able to to present her with a grandchild I gave her a hairy little blue and red spider instead.

A short documentary of Stuarts journey of discovery can be viewed here

Not an isolated discovery

But Stuarts discovery is by no means isolated. A number of bright new Peacock Spiders have been discovered by keen amateurs throughout Australia. What is surprising is that it has taken us so long to key into these bright little jewels, but with the help of passionate amateurs like Stuart Harris and Jurgen Otto that world is slowly being revealed.

The great majority of Peacock Spiders are incredibly colourful, (that is the males are). And although colourful they can be tricky to spot as they rapidly flitter on rocks and through leaf litter. Their abdomens flare out to reveal incredible colour as they display to attract the attention of females. Their colourful display is accompanied by some truly extraordinary footwork and gesticulation.

As if their sheer iridescent colouring wasn’t enough this little spiders bop, vibrate, shimmer, and wave their legs about like crazed 8-legged air traffic controllers in rapid trance like dance moves. None have captured these rhythmic leaps bounds and springs better than the ‘peacock spider man’ Jurgen Otto.

Risky business

But these moves can be risky. Unimpressed by fancy footwork, females will occasionally dine on their potential suitors. Peacock Spiders are members of the Jumping Spider family, so when a female decides to pounce, their smaller male counterparts are in trouble.

Cannibalism is not uncommon as is revealed at around the four minute mark of the following footage. Unraveling the behaviour and evolutionary ecology of these spiders is a complicated task, why do they invest so much in performance and flamboyant attire?

 

We are only just beginning to understand the ecology and behaviour of these tiny unique creatures, its almost certain that there are many more marvellous little Peacock Spiders out there. All are tiny, at between 4-6mm in length like this diminutive Maratus volans and with patience and a keen eye you might spot one in bushland near you, deftly jumping and pouncing through the leaf litter.

_MG_8696 peacock spider Maratus volans

For more outstanding images of Peacock Spiders see Jurgen or Stuart’s Flickr sites.

 

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Part two of a four-part series very loosely based on the classic elements, water, earth, fire and air.  In each piece I explore an element of discovery, innovation or speculation in ecology vaguely referencing the classic elements.

 


3 Responses to “Earth.”

  1. Rob Dabal says:

    Hi Jennifer. Yes they are very unlike your average spider! An antidote for arachnophobia perhaps? We are a pervasive species yet there are many many levels that the natural world functions at which we are essentially oblivious to, with the exception of the Stuart Hariss’s and Jurgen Ottos of the world.

  2. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Woah… I hate spiders, but these things are really cool. I find it amazing when a new species is discovered because it shows that although there are billions of people on the planet, nature is managing to find it way to hide from us!

  3. Sam Girvan says:

    Been in love with these little guys since an animal behaviour subject in undergrad. Great piece representing how cool they really are.