Peacock spiders are so-named because of their bright colors and their dancelike, courtship rituals.
The two new species were found in southeast Queensland by Madeline Girard, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley who studies peacock spiders, and a friend who went with her into the field. Girard affectionately gave the nickname Sparklemuffin to one of the species, Maratus jactatus, which has bluish and reddish stripes on its abdomen.
She nicknamed the other species Skeletorus for its white markings on a black background, which make it look a bit like a skeleton. Sparklemuffin looks similar to three previously discovered species in this group of peacock spiders, whereas Skeletorus looks very different from all the other known species in the group.
In fact, Skeletorus, officially named Maratus sceletus, “looks dramatically different [from] all other peacock spiders known to date, making me think that this group is perhaps much more diverse than we had thought,” said Jürgen Otto, an entomologist who specializes in photographing the arachnids and who co-authored the report.
“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,” Otto told Live Science.
The first peacock spider was discovered in the 1800s, said study co-author David Hill, the editor of the journal Peckhamia, which published the new report on Jan. 20. But then, “for more than 100 years, almost nobody looked at these animals,” until Otto started photographing them and recording their courtship displays, Hill said. The spiders are very small, measuring between 3 and 7 millimeters (0.1 to 0.3 inches) long, he added.