Peacock Spider Facts

Scientific Name: Maratus

Peacock Spider
Coastal peacock spider (Maratus speciosus).

Paul Harrison / Getty Images

Peacock spiders are part of class Arachnida and are most prominent in Australia, though one species is present in parts of China. There is no direct translation for the genus name Maratus, but the species translations, such as Albus, meaning white, directly relate to their physical attributes. Male peacock spiders have vibrant colors and are most known for their energy and mating dances.

Fast Facts

  • Scientific Name: Maratus
  • Common Names: Peacock spider, rainbow peacock
  • Order: Araneae
  • Basic Animal Group: Insect
  • Size: Averaging 0.15 inches
  • Life Span: One year
  • Diet: Flies, moths, winged ants, grasshoppers
  • Habitat: savannas, grasslands, deserts, scrub forests
  • Conservation Status: Not evaluated
  • Fun Fact: Peacock spiders can leap over 20 times their body size.

Description

peacock jumping spider
Male peacock jumping spider (Maratus tasmanicus) on Carpobrotus plant. Kristian Bell / Getty Images

Male peacock spiders have black and white hind legs with vibrant red, orange, white, cream, and blue coloration on their bodies. This coloration comes from microscopic scales found over their bodies. Females lack this color and have a plain brown color. Peacock spiders also have 6 to 8 eyes, most of which are simple organs that convey information about movement and light and dark. Their two central eyes are much more powerful, conveying information in fine detail and in color. This is because their eyes have spherical lenses and an internal focusing mechanism with a four-tiered retina.

Habitat and Distribution

These colorful spiders are found in Australia and China in semi-arid and temperate regions. Some live in only one kind of habitat, while others occupy several due to their highly mobile hunting tendencies. Habitats include deserts, dunes, savannas, grasslands, and scrub forests.

Diet and Behavior

Peacock spiders do not spin webs; instead, they are daily hunters of small insects. Their diet consists of flies, moths, winged ants, and grasshoppers, as well as any small insects they can capture. Females may also eat males if they are unimpressed by the males’ dances. They use their amazing vision to see their prey from yards away and pounce from long distances to deliver a fatal bite. This ability to jump large distances also helps to avoid predators, which include bigger spiders. They are mostly solitary creatures until mating season, when males aggressively court females.

Peacock spiders only communicate during mating season. Males make vibrations with their hind legs, which are then picked up by sensory systems in females’ legs. Females release chemical pheromones from their abdomens, which produce drag-lines that can be picked up by chemoreceptors in the males. Peacock spiders’ eyes are powerful enough to perceive the males’ bright colors in fine detail over long distances.

Reproduction and Offspring

peacock spider
Coastal peacock spider (Maratus speciosus) male in courtship display with colorful plate visible. Auscape/UIG / Universal Images Group / Getty Images Plus

Mating season for peacock spiders occurs during the Australian spring from August to December. Males reach sexual maturity earlier than females and begin the mating ritual by perching atop a high surface and waving their hind legs. He produces vibrations when he spots a female to get her attention. Once she is facing him, he begins a mating dance by unfolding a flat section of his abdomen, which fans out. He alternates displaying this flat section and the hind legs for up to 50 minutes or until the female makes a decision.

Males are very aggressive and may make multiple attempts to win over a female. They have been known to pursue pregnant or aloof females, as well as females of other species. A female can deter a male by lifting her abdomen to show her disinterest or even by eating the male. In December, pregnant females nest and lay their sacs of eggs, which contain hundreds of spiders. She remains with them after they hatch until they can begin feeding themselves.

Species

There are over 40 known species of Maratus, most of which live in southern Australia and one of which resides in China. Some species traverse large ranges while others are restricted to one geographic region. Most species grow up to 0.19 inches, but they differ in their colors and patterns, which influences the choreography of their dances.

Conservation Status

All species of genus Maratus have not been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Arachnologists argue that the biggest threat to these creatures is habitat destruction by controlled burns and wildfires.

Sources

  • Otto, Jurgen. "Peacock Spider". Peacock Spider, https://www.peacockspider.org.
  • Pandika, Melissa. "Peacock Spider". Sierra Club, 2013, https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2013-4-july-august/critter/peacock-spider.
  • "Peacock Spiders". Buglife, https://www.buglife.org.uk/bugs-and-habitats/peacock-spiders.
  • Short, Abigail. "Maratus". Animal Diversity Web, 2019, https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Maratus/.