Mon, Jul 23, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Biologists identify ‘dancing’ spiders

The Guardian

It is only a few millimeters in size, performs a dance as part of a courtship ritual and has striking colored markings on its back that “look like a pharaoh’s headdress,” but when biologist Jurgen Otto first spotted the peacock spider species that he has named Maratus unicup, he did not immediately recognize how special it was.

“I didn’t think much of it because I’m partially color blind, but there was quite a reaction to photographs of it on the Internet, with people saying it’s beautiful,” Otto said.

Maratus unicup is one of two new peacock spider species that Otto and his colleague David Hill have named in a new paper published in the international spider journal Peckhamia

Otto discovered the spider near Lake Unicup in Western Australia last year.

He said the new species was notable for its courtship display, in which the male dances — swinging its abdomen from side to side — while the female watches from a close distance.

The second species they have named Maratus tortus and was discovered by environmental consultant and educator David Knowles in 1994 near Walpole in Western Australia.

Knowles and Otto have returned to the site several times and were finally able to capture specimens of the spider last year.

Knowles had originally nicknamed the species “hokey pokey” because of the male’s curious twisting dance.

“There’s no other peacock spider that has this kind of a display,” Otto said. “It looks almost like a Spanish bullfight, where the female is the bull and the male is the bullfighter.”

In the paper, Otto and Hill say there are now 70 species of peacock spiders, the majority of which have been named by them over the past seven years.

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