Maratus volans, better known as the Peacock Spider, is the dandiest, the cutest little thing you’ll see today. The male of this species has two rounded, most brilliantly colored skin-like flaps on either side of his abdomen that are folded down close against the sides of the body, like a shawl. The brilliant colouring is not just for decoration, he uses it when he courts his mate.
To get the attention of the female spider the male first waves his legs, vibrate his abdomen and moves from side to side. He also raises his third legs which have a brush of black bristles and the white-tipped ends. And then like a peacock, he raises the two magnificently coloured flaps and dances for the female. It’s this final act that has earned the spider, and indeed the whole genus Maratus, the name of Peacock Spider.
The Peacock Spider is extremely tiny – a mere four millimetre in length. Hiding in the undergrowth, it is the sort of thing an average Australian bushwalker would pass right by, but not Dr Jurgen Otto who captured these shots on his camera.
“I have a very keen eye for small things”, said Dr Jurgen Otto. “When I walk around the bush I usually don’t look into the trees, I usually look on the ground. There was a spider that just looked different to other spiders I’d seen before so I was very curious…and I took a couple of photos.”
The photographs revealed a most extraordinary looking jumping spider.
“Since then I’ve been wrapped and wanted to take more pictures so I kept coming back for 3 years but unfortunately I kept searching at the wrong spot.”
Three years later, Jurgen’s perseverance paid off and he captured what he believes is the only footage of Australian Peacock spiders.
Other species of the Peacock spider are equally impressive.
The common name of this species is Coastal Peacock spider. Until recently it was called Saitis specious, but it is very similar to other species of Maratus and therefore is now included in this genus. The orange coloured hairs are only visible during the display. One of the most striking species in the genus Maratus, it can be found in metropolitan Perth.
This species was first photographed by Stuart Harris in December 2008, but it took another 3 years for another specimen to be found that could then be scientifically described. That specimen is now lodged in the Australian Museum as the holotype and the species is named in honour of Stuart. The specimen you see here is the third one ever photographed. It too came from Booroomba Rocks in Canberra and was collected by Stuart.