Citizen scientists have discovered a new species of peacock spider in the Australian outback, near the central west New South Wales town of Orange, and to the delight of the amateur arachnid-fans that found it, the creature is colour-coordinated to suit its surrounds. It’s bright orange.
Although small, typically 3mm–5mm across, peacock spiders are the dandies of the araneae world. Endemic to Australia, they’re jumping spiders, but leaping on prey is only one of their moves. The males are famed for their astonishing colours and the elaborate dances they perform to attract females. Some ‘sing’ songs by drumming on the ground (or even the female’s head) and creating a rhythm. The stakes are high though, as unimpressed females won’t hesitate to eat their prospective mates—especially the bad dancers…
The pulling tactics of the tiny Tango-tinted newly found animal are not yet known, but it was the discovery of a dull-coloured, but interesting looking, female that first alerted the spider hunters that they might be on to a previously unrecorded species.
The group of eight-legged-beast enthusiasts, citizen scientists and photographers led by entomologist Michael Duncan, had formed through their shared love of peacock spiders and developed an initiative called Project Maratus, named after the spider genus.
Like peahens, female peacock spiders are somewhat drab compared to the males. After locating a lone female near the toilets at the Borenore Caves reserve—using ‘sweep nets’, which are similar to butterfly nets—the group launched a search for the male. They suspected one would be nearby, but had no idea what he would look like. Before long, one of the group struck gold (or orange), and they went on to locate over 20 specimens of the new species.
Besides his bright orange body, the male boasts flashes of purple and some blue bands across his back that Duncan described as racing stripes. ‘I call these peacock spiders mini birds of paradise,’ the excited entomologist told the ABC. The initial discovery was made late last year, but has only just been made public, and the samples are with taxonomists, who will scientifically describe and name the species.
The new spider was the group’s fourth find in 12 months, but according to Duncan, hunting for new peacock spiders has become all the rage since scientists discovered their funky dance moves. In 2005 there were only eight known species of the genus, now there are about 60, many found by enthusiasts such as the Project Maratus mob, who spend hours sleeping in swags in the outback and crawling around on the ground by day, searching for spiders—a hobby that would give many people the horrors. Peacock spiders are venomous, but their jaws are too tiny to break human skin–so it’s just everything else out there that you might want to worry about…
But, what’s that—you want more funky spider moves? Oh, go on then.