New peacock spiders

Peacock spiders are not only beautiful, but great examples of sexual selection, for the males show both amazing colors and fascinating display behaviors that they use in their attempts to attract females. “Attempt”, of course, doesn’t mean they’re behaving with conscious intent, but just showing the results of sexual selection.

The only reason peacock spiders don’t get as much attention as, say, their avian counterparts—the birds of paradise—is that they’re tiny, like this (all photos by Jurgen Otto):

Like all salticids, peacock spiders are also lightning fast, as you’ll see in some of the videos below.

I’ve written about these arthropod jewels before (here and here); they are, as I said, salticids, or jumping spiders, and peacock spiders fall in the genus Maratus. All but one of the 50-odd species (there may be 60 or more) are found in Australia. Their primary popularizer and discover is Dr. Jürgen Otto, who has a video site devoted to them as well as a Facebook page and a Flickr page.

As is typical of sexually-selected species, only the males show bright colors and displays, which ultimately result from reproductively competent females being a scarce resource that must be attracted.The video below shows the amazing variety of behaviors of Maratus spiders (51 in this clip). Males frantically wave their legs and abdomens (all strikingly marked) to get a female’s attention.

Otto has a mildly disturbing habit of adding dance music to the spider videos; I prefer to turn the sound off. One can appreciate these creatures without anthropomorphizing them:

Here’s one species, Maratus volans, discovered, filmed, and narrated by Otto (at 5:21 you see an unsuccessful male eaten by a female):

Two years ago Otto described seven new species of Maratus; here’s a video showing those:

Now, according to several sources, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Otto’s found four more species, as well as a new subspecies. Annoyingly, none of the articles reporting this discovery cite or link to the scientific paper with formal descriptions (this is a flaw in a lot of science journalism). I finally found Otto’s paper in an obscure journal, Peckhamia, with a citation and free link at the bottom of this post.

If you click on the screenshot just below, you’ll go to an ABC video that shows all of the new species:

And here are the new species. First, the abstract of Otto’s paper:

Four new species of the genus Maratus are described from Western Australia: M. cristatus, M. electricus, M. gemmifer, and M. trigonus. M. electricus is compared to the closely related M. linnaei Waldock 2008. A new subspecies of M. melindae Waldock 2013, M. melindae corus, is reported from a new locality east of Cervantes. The courtship display of all six species is also documented.

Go to the paper for a lot more photos, as well as pictures of the females, which are similar and much less colorful than the males shown below:

Maratus electricus:

Maratus cristatus:

Maratus gemmifer:

Maratus trigonus:

M. melindae corus (it has not escaped my notice that this species looks very similar to M. gemmifer pictured above, but it’s identified in Otto’s paper as a subspecies of a different species, differentiated by color markings).

h/t: Phil D.


Otto, J. C. and D. E. Hill.  2017.  Five new peacock spiders from Western Australia (Araneae: Salticidae: Euophryini: Maratus Karsch 1878).  Peckhamia 152.1:  1-97


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:05 am | Permalink


    Those guys are SCRUMPTIOUS!

  2. GBJames
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink


  3. busterggi
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Captain America Spider – is this Marvel canon?

  4. Serendipitydawg
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Music seems to be a Youtube essential these days; even something as mundane as cutting metal on a lathe will elicit streams of comments of the form, “where’s the music?’if it is omitted 🙂

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Totally cool! I just saw the Stayin’ Alive video elsewhere, and am glad to see it again here.
    It would be interesting to learn how these new species form.

    • loren russell
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Mark: I haven’t bothered to read up on Maratus, but most moderately diverse genera of arthropods seem to fit reasonably into E.Mayr-style cycles of allopatric speciation. You have clusters of closely related species, often with a few widely distributed species surrounded by close relatives, some of which are geographically isolated, others co-occurring with their more widespread brethren. For Maratus, as for the birds of paradise, evolution of the elaborate courtship displays and courtship ‘plumage’ poses a problem: they seem SO precise and species-specific, yet incipient species must adopt new colors and new ‘dances’. How does that happen? My guess is that females [both in big avian brains and tiny spider ones] are hard-wired to say “this is a guy kinda like me and he’s displaying” but allow some variation from the standard without walking away — or in the case of Maratus, eating him in mid-display. I’d guess that for Maratus, there might be some color or colors that attract, other colors, perhaps of a currently or previously sympatric Maratus might be kill-switches..

      Within that paradigm, and perhaps particularly where there aren’t a lot of competing congeners, might there be selection for mostly-like-Dad, but different and prettier? Or, again in the absence of similar species, simply reduced fussiness with genetic drift leading to novel patterns that are consolidated around a new paradigm on a return to sympatry.

      I think the spider example seems harder to grasp [I think only superficially] simply both because they aren’t as bright as a BoP, and because a bad display might result in death rather than rejection.

  6. Stephen Barnard
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:45 am | Permalink


  7. Stephen Mynett
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Amazing and beautiful creatures. Whenever I see things like this a Douglas Adams line comes to mind: “Isn’t enough the garden is beautiful, do you have to believe there are ferry at the bottom as well.”

    The fact they have evolved like this makes it more amazing and much more interesting than the theists “a god did it” answer. I cannot remember who said this but another great line, about the refusal or creationists to accept the wonder of evolution. The quote was: “A creationist looking at nature is like a blindfolded person going to an art exhibition.”

    • Posted September 8, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I know you meant ‘fairies’.

    • nicky
      Posted September 9, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Stephen, I don’t know for sure either, but the ‘blindfolded in an art gallery’ quote sounds like something right up in The Dawks alley:
      “Unweaving the Rainbow” as well as his “The Magic of Reality”, are but more elaborate ways of elaborating just that.
      So, Richard Dawkins would be my guess.

  8. Posted September 8, 2017 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    This was an amazing post today, such beautiful creatures. I loved the “Stayin’ Alive” video especially. It gave me a smile for the day, thanks!

    • loren russell
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Given the cannibalistic tendncies of the females, “Stayin’ Alive” IS a pretty apt tune.

    • Les Faby
      Posted September 9, 2017 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      Exactly. With some spiders,
      it’s Dinner and a Date
      but not in that order.

      • nicky
        Posted September 9, 2017 at 8:14 am | Permalink

        “with some spiders”, we know. But the question is, is it so with the peacock jumpers? (My guess would be yes, would not the elaborate dance, and the sometimes quick exit point to that?)

        • tjeales
          Posted September 10, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

          In order to get the males to display for photos and videos you need a female present. What Otto and other have found is that with a live female the males often got pounced on and consumed. They now pin a dead female out for the males to display to and you see the results here.

  9. loren russell
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    It would be interesting to intercut some of these spiders with bird-of-paradise displays. Color contrast, iridescence, jerky circling displays.. no doubt many in the same forests.

    NOt that the spider and bird visual systems are alike, but that selection is maximizing the eye-catching part of advertising.

    • nicky
      Posted September 9, 2017 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Good question, peacock spiders and birds of paradise – and bowerbirds- are both predominantly from the ‘Sahul’ continent.
      I mean, convergent evolution gives us hummingbirds in the ‘New World’, Sunbirds in Africa (endearingly called ‘suikerbekkies’ here) and there are some Asian convergents too, adapted to the same niche.
      The variety of displays in paradise and bower birds, and peacock spiders appears to be a Sahul specialty. Could one argue that that is an argument illustrating sexual selection? There is not a clear ‘niche’ for sexual display, so it is not really adaptation to a specific niche.
      And then the question arises: why specifically in the ‘Sahul’ area?
      Woud love to hear some ideas/opinions here.

  10. rickflick
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I was curious to know how they pack so much elaborate behavior – mating and complex hunting and learning – into such a small space – a brain smaller than a pin head. It turns out they have only about 600,000 neurons, while we have 100 billion. One source sited research that showed that they use just one neuron to integrate the imagery coming from all of the eyes.

  11. David Coxill
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Wish all spiders were that size ,i would not be so scared of them .

    • busterggi
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Ah, but their tinyness means they can sneak up on you w/o you seeing them.

      • Posted September 8, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        That’s not a bad thing, as the super small ones can’t really bite you. Our skin is too thick to penetrate. Smaller spiders are okay by me; I’ve let a few of them crawl on my hands because I know they can’t do a lot. It drives my husband–who happens to be an arachnophobe–absolutely crazy.

        Now the big ones? I give them lots of room. They can bite and it does hurt. (Got nipped by a wolf spider when I was much younger. It hurt like crazy but I wasn’t too mad at the spider.)

        • busterggi
          Posted September 8, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

          I occassionally tease spiders that are large enough to confuse my hand for another spider – I know its cruel but hey, if you want to build a web in my sink while I’m off at work…

          • Posted September 8, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

            I’ve yelled at a couple to get out of my sink and chased them off. I have no idea why they want to build a web in there, as they could drown. That’s when my hubby says I’m crazy and should let them. But I can’t because they’re weirdly cute.

            • busterggi
              Posted September 8, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

              I usually just open the window above the sink and drop them into the garden outside.

              • BJ
                Posted September 8, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

                :spiders gather in a circle outside busterggi’s window:

                Lawrence: “I just don’t understand why Gerald would do this. He seemed so happy.”

                Jenny: “Two days ago, he gave me all his unused insect carcasses. I thought it was weird at the time, but…”

                Lawrence: “I know he was having financial trouble. I guess he just felt life was one web even he couldn’t escape.”

  12. Leigh Jackson
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Saw these creatures for the first time recently on Newsnight – delighted to see them again.

  13. Posted September 8, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    All the D’aawwwws for this. They are cute little things!

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Amazing how evolution repeats through so many different species.

  15. Posted September 8, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Sexual selection is a colourful palette of displays and behaviours, just amazing!

  16. Posted September 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised that M. melindae corus and M. gemmifer are different species. The differences I can detect from the photos are subtle (kinda orange unibrows in one, whereas the other has broken orange lines).

  17. Duncan McCaskill
    Posted September 9, 2017 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    There is an excellent documentary about the discovery of a Maratus species near Canberra by an amateur. Its called “Maratus”.
    When a garbage collector takes a photo of a spider and posts it online, he gets a call from a scientist telling him it might be an undiscovered species. There follows an epic three-year quest to re-find the spider – a journey of extraordinary self-discovery for a colourful citizen scientist.

    Trailer: MARATUS Trailer.

  18. Posted September 10, 2017 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your information about peacock spiders. I live in Pennsylvania and I am generally not a fan of spiders, but I am completely enthralled by these little ones. Keep on sharing and God bless. 🌈🦋

%d bloggers like this: