Australia’s own ‘Spider-Man’ has identified seven new species of the fancy-looking, dancing invertebrate*, the peacock spider.
Museum Victoria’s Joseph Schubert announced his findings and described the spiders in a research paper published in the journal Zootaxa this week, bringing the total number of species within the Maratus genus* to 85.
The tiny, vividly coloured Maratus spiders are unique to Australia and are famous on the internet, where videos of their elaborate courtship* dances with added music have been watched millions of times.
Though he is just 22 years old, Mr Schubert has now described a total of 12 species of peacock spiders, having previously described five in 2019.
Despite growing up terrified of spiders, he became fascinated by them over time and has already proven himself a world leader in Maratus research.
Seven new peacock spiders discovered
In his previous research, Mr Schubert was sent specimens* to identify by a group of citizen scientists called Project Maratus.
“Someone would send me a picture and I’d think ‘oh wow, that could be a new species!’” he said.
Thanks to funding from Bush Blitz Australia* and Museums Victoria, he was able to travel to the Little Desert in western Victoria and to Western Australia.
Maratus azureus, Maratus constellatus, Maratus laurenae, Maratus noggerup, and Maratus suae are the new five species out of WA, while Maratus volpei was identified from South Australia, and Maratus inaquosus from Victoria.
Naming inspiration for each spider comes from its colour, location, or in honour of the people who discovered the species or have supported him throughout his research.
“Some of the species in this paper were discovered by citizen scientists who documented the localities and sent images to me – their help is so important for this kind of research,” he said.
As with previous described species of Maratus, images show males of the new species have remarkable iridescent* colours and patterns on their abdomens, an identifying feature of peacock spiders used in their courtship displays.
‘I would have to say Maratus constellatus is my favourite by far – it’s such a nice looking species, the pattern reminds me of The Starry Night by van Gogh. Plus I travelled a very, very long way to find it!’
Mr Schubert believes this is just the start of an ever-growing list of new discoveries about these spiders.
“I don’t think we are anywhere near done yet, considering how many species have only recently been discovered and how many sites are yet to be explored – I’m still actively on the hunt for new species of peacock spider!”
- invertebrate: an animal without a backbone
- genus: the scientific classification above species and below family
- courtship: attracting a mate
- specimens: samples or examples
- Bush Blitz Australia: a nature discovery project between Parks Australia and companies
- iridescent: showing luminous colours that seem to change at different angles
- How many peacock spider species are now known to exist?
- How did Mr Schubert feel about spiders when he was younger?
- In which states were the new species discovered?
- Why is van Gogh in this story?
- Does Mr Schubert believe there are more peacock spiders to be discovered?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Be Inspired
Create an artwork inspired by the amazing peacock spider.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Visual Arts
Although Joseph Shubert was terrified of spiders, he is now an expert on them. Imagine that you are Joseph. You have been invited to make a YouTube video or podcast for kids on “Facing Your Fears”. Write the script for your video or podcast.
Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity.
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability
Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.
How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).
Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing?
What are they?
Can you sort them into their categories?
HAVE YOUR SAY: What sort of new species would you like to discover?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.