Two new peacock spiders discovered in Australia

Peacock spiders are known for the males' elaborate mating dances, used to attract females.
By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 26, 2015 at 1:24 PM
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BERKELEY, Calif., Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered two new species of peacock spiders, a brightly colored group of spiders belonging to the jumping spider family (Salticidae) -- the largest family in the order Araneae.

Peacock spiders are named for their remarkable colors -- like the feathers of peafowl -- and their dancelike courtship routines. The newly discovered species have been nicknamed "Skeletorus" and "Sparklemuffin."

Skeletorus is officially named Maratus sceletus, while Sparklemuffin is classified as Maratus jactatus. Skeletorus features white stripes on a black background, with just a hint of blue on the abdomen. The affect is a spider that appear to be wearing a skeleton costume. Researchers say the new species looks very much like other previously identified relatives.

Sparklemuffin, on the other hand, looks much more unique -- unlike any other peacock spiders. It's characterized by bright blue and red stripes.

"Despite the large number of species we have discovered just in the last few years, I can't help feeling that we may have just scratched the surface of this most exciting group of spiders, and that nature has quite a few more surprises in store," Jürgen Otto, an entomologist and expert spider photographer in Australia, told Live Science.

The showy dance numbers -- which usually involve shaking abdomens and extended legs -- and colorful stripes that make peacock spiders special are a product of evolution, specifically the pressures of reproduction. Along with the pressure of survival (the race between the hunter and the hunted), reproduction is one of the biggest drivers of adaptations.

Male peacock spiders have adapted to this pressure by developing unique ways to stand out in a crowd and attract a mate.

"Across taxa, sexual communication is fundamental to an organism's reproductive fitness, and ultimately, evolutionary success," explained Madeline Girard, who discovered the new species. "Consequently, strong selection pressures often lead to extreme adaptations in physiology, morphology, and behavior."

Girard, a grad student a the University of California, Berkeley, documented her discovery with the help of Otto. Together, they published their findings in the journal Peckhamia.

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