People are calling this new species of dancing spider “adorable”

SCIENCE

Two spider lovers in Australia have discovered seven new species of peacock spider. These crawlers are known for their bright colors and unusual mating dances. To biologist and photographer Jürgen Otto, they’re cute enough to be compared to kittens. He hopes their approachability may change the public perception about spiders as a whole. (National Geographic)

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

 

Discussion Ideas

  • What makes peacock spiders so captivating?
    • These unique spiders sport a range of colors, and many have iridescent scales that form beautiful patterns.
    • They dance. Well, the males do at least. Mating dances are usually composed of different movements that show off the creature’s body.
      • Some species have brightly colored fan-like appendages on their backs that they raise and flutter above their heads to attract mates.
    • There are just so many kinds with such variation! Although all peacock spiders have front-facing eyes, furry bodies, and (of course) eight legs, the 48 known species display a wide range of colors, patterns, and types of fans.

 

  • What do some of the newly discovered peacock spiders look like?
    • Arachnologists Jürgen Otto and David Knowles, who discovered the new species in Western Australia, picked Latin names based on the spiders’ appearances.
      • The Maratus albus species is covered in white fur, earning its name which is Latin for “white.”
      • The male Maratus vespa has a fan with a pattern that looks like the outline of a wasp. (The name “Vespa” is inspired by the generic scientific name for wasps.)
      • Males of the Maratus bubo species look as if they had a painting of an owl on their backs. (Bubo means “owl” in Latin.)

 

  • How do scientists differentiate between different species of peacock spider?
    • There are a few factors. For one, scientists consider what type of fan the male spiders have—or if they have one at all. They also observe different colors and patterns on the spiders’ heads and legs. And, of course, arachnologists watch the creatures’ mating performances. Different types of dance moves often denote different species.

 

MalePeacockSpider

The Maratus volans species of peacock spider performs its dance. Photo by Jurgen Otto, courtesy Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 2.0

  • How do the female spiders react to the males’ mating dances?
    • Often, female spiders stand a few millimeters away and watch very closely as the male spider dances.
    • Occasionally, the female spiders will eat the males at the end of the dance.

 

  • Peacock spiders are very popular on the Internet. A Facebook page in their honor has more than 66 thousand likes. When and how did the Internet at large get to know these tiny dancers?
    • In 2008, Jürgen Otto posted the first footage ever of the peacock spider’s mating behavior. It has since been watched nearly two million times. Check it out below.

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

National Geographic: Adorable New Peacock Spiders Will Rock Your World

Reuters: Save the last dance for me: Being cute not enough for this spider when choosing a mate

Time: 7 Adorable New Peacock Spiders Species Discovered

 

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