These Newly Discovered Peacock Spiders Will Change Your Mind About Arachnids

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Maratus gemmifer is one of several newly identified peacock jumping spiders, which are native to Australia. (Photo: © Jurgen Otto)

Many people would be hesitant to describe arachnids as "cute," but that's probably because they've never laid eyes on a peacock jumping spider.

These Australian jumping spiders are super tiny (only a few millimeters long), but what they lack in size is made up in their naturally flamboyant attitude and style. Although they belong to the genus Maratus, their common name is a reference to the distinctive peacock-like courtship dances performed by the males when they're trying to woo a female, as seen in this compilation video:

The scientist who has led the charge in studying peacock spiders is Sydney-based biologist Jurgen Otto, whom you might remember from his 2015 discovery of Sparklemuffin and Skeletorus. Otto has also identified many other species before and since then, and now he and zoologist David Hill have published two new studies introducing six new species of peacock spiders, plus one new subspecies.

Both papers are published in Peckhamia, a journal "dedicated to research in the biology of jumping spiders." In one, Otto and Hill note that the Maratus genus was named in 1878, but contained only seven species as recently as 2008. Thanks largely to Otto and his colleagues, more than 60 Maratus species are now known to science, including their vibrant colors and their mesmerizing dance moves.

As Otto writes on his Facebook page, he first stumbled across a peacock spider in 2005, and became hooked when he saw it display its colorful flaps. "At the time nobody had observed this behaviour, let alone photographed or filmed it," he writes. "In 2008 I photographed its courtship display for the first time, and this sparked a passion that sustains me to this day. I went on to find many more species, some unknown to science that I am now also naming and describing with my dear friend David Hill. It is my aim to bring as many to your attention as possible."

In that spirit, meet a few recent additions to this spectacular group of spiders:

Maratus gemmifer

Maratus gemmifer. (Photo: © Jurgen Otto)

This species, discovered at Karnup Nature Reserve in Western Australia, has a "bright, iridescent gem-like spot on each lateral flap of the male fan," according to Otto and Hill. The Latin name gemmifer roughly translates to "bearing gems" in English.

Maratus electricus

Maratus electricus. (Photo: © Jurgen Otto)

Found near the edge of Lake Muir in Western Australia, this species gets its name from the red parallel lines on the fan of the male. As Otto and Hill write, these "resemble electrical connections on an circuit board."

Maratus nimbus

Maratus nimbus. (Photo: © Jurgen Otto)

Nimbus comes from a Latin word for cloud. Males of this species have a unique image on their fans like "a group of clouds across the sky at dusk," according to Otto and Hill, who found the spiders in New South Wales and South Australia.

Maratus cristatus

Maratus cristatus. (Photo: © Jurgen Otto)

M. cristatus was found near the coastal town of Denmark, Western Australia. Its name — which means "crested" or "tufted" in English — refers to distinctive tufts of long, white setae (hairlike bristles) along the rear edge of the male's fan.

Maratus trigonus

Maratus trigonus. (Photo: © Jurgen Otto)

Collected at Mount Lindesay in New South Wales, this species' name — "triangular" in English — was inspired by the triangular shape of the male's extended fan.

Maratus sapphirus

Maratus sapphirus. (Photo: © Jurgen Otto)

This species' name has a double meaning. It refers to the "sapphire-like appearance of the scale tract that decorates each lateral flap of the male fan," Otto and Hill write, and to the "Sapphire Coast" of New South Wales, where it was discovered.

Maratus melindae corus

Maratus melindae corus. (Photo: © Jurgen Otto)

Aside from various differences in coloring, this subspecies and other M. melindae spiders "have been found far apart at locations that differ in climate and habitat," Otto and Hill write. Its subspecies name means "northwest wind" in English.

Those are the seven peacock spiders identified in the new Peckhamia papers, which were published Aug. 26 and Sept. 12. See some of them in action at Otto's highly entertaining YouTube channel.

As a bonus — and to further illustrate the diversity of these spiders — here are seven more peacock spider species that Otto and Hill identified in a 2016 paper:

Maratus bubo

Maratus bubo. (Photo: Jurgen Otto)

The group name "bubo" is based on the Latin genus name for the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) in reference to the owl-like design on the spider's dorsal plate.

Maratus vespa

Maratus vespa. (Photo: Jurgen Otto)

This exquisite specimen is named for the unusually detailed scale design along its body that, according to Otto, "resembles the outline of a wasp" (genus Vespa).

Maratus lobatus

Maratus lobatus. (Photo: Jurgen Otto)

The dorsal plate of this species looks like it has ears or insect eyes on either side, a feature referenced in its group name lobatus — a Latin word meaning "lobed."

Maratus tessellatus

Maratus tessellatus. (Photo: Jurgen Otto)

While not as flamboyant as some peacock spiders, individuals in the tessellatus group sport distinctive, checkered (or tessellated) patterns on their dorsal plate.

Maratus australis

Maratus australis. (Photo: Jurgen Otto)

This species is closely related to M. tasmanicus, but they have slight yet distinctive differences, including smaller dorsal-plate spots and a different banding pattern.

Maratus vultus

Maratus vultus. (Photo: Jurgen Otto)

The group name vultus, a Latin word meaning face, refers to this peacock spider's uncannily face-like design along the fan of the adult male.

Maratus albus

Maratus albus. (Photo: Jurgen Otto)

It may not be as colorful as some of its cousins, but Maratus albus is easily identifiable thanks to the long, white setae sprouting from its legs.