The courtship ritual of Peacock spiders are incredible displays, but for some reason they are not widely known in their home country of Australia and around the world. “They are 3 to 5 millimeters in length and people simply don’t expect such beauty and complexity from something that small, let alone something that is a spider,” says Jürgen Otto a mite biologist at the Australian Department of Agriculture in Sydney
A mix of animal metaphors, the elephant peacock spider, Maratus elephans, is named for the pattern on its abdomen that looks like an elephant’s face. With this species, there are now 38 peacock spiders that have been formally named, and Otto believes there are at least 25 more waiting to be officially named and described.
Peacock spiders have become his passion. Puzzled as to why they weren’t more widely documented until he started doing so in 2008, he remarked “These spiders aren’t particularly rare in Australia – they occur from Melbourne all along the coast into northern Queensland. They can be observed close to all major population centers: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, as well as Perth in the west.”
Even for people who suffer from arachnophobia, these spiders are cute. “Cute is probably the most common attribute that people apply to them,” Otto says. “My hope is once that has happened there is a chance it will rub off onto their less colorful cousins. It will take some time: spiders have had a bad rap for a very long time and videos aimed at scaring people far outnumber those like mine designed to do the opposite.”
Otto’s passion started by chance. As a trained mite specialist, he is used to looking for small creatures. While walking with his family in 2005, he noticed a nimble and iridescent spider on the path. When he tried to identify it later, he found it in a book from the 1970s. It was called the “gliding spider”. The spider was believed, at that time, to be able to fly.
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