5 Flashy Facts About Peacock Spiders

They’re fuzzy, they’re flashy, and they’ve got great moves. 

1. They’re small, but they’re scrappy. 

Peacock spiders (genus Maratus) cram a whole lot of swagger into a teeny-tiny package. The biggest Maratus species can reach 0.3 inches—about the size of a pencil eraser.

Like almost all spiders, peacock spiders are venomous. But that doesn’t mean they’re dangerous to humans: Their little jaws are so tiny that they couldn’t even puncture our skin.

 We’re safe, but crickets and other spiders are not. Like all jumping spiders, the peacock spiders don’t build webs. They stalk their prey like lions. When the time comes, they pounce, and can take down prey three or four times their size. 

2. Each species has its own dance—and house mix. 

Female peacock spiders are the Tina Belchers of the animal kingdom. To impress them, you need two things: a terrific butt, and a talent for shaking it.

To fulfill these requirements, male peacock spiders have evolved spectacular iridescent fans on their butts, and fancy dances to show them off. The dance of each species is unique, but most of them involve sensual leg waving and booty shaking.

As if that wasn’t enough, a male also periodically pauses his dance to drum on the ground, and occasionally on the female’s head. Spiders don’t have ears like we do, and instead hear through organs on their legs. The drumbeats’ vibrations travel across the ground and up the legs of the female, which is apparently super-hot. If the male’s little vaudeville routine is satisfactory, the spiders get down to business.

3. It's bad for the male if his dancing isn't up to par.  

Male spiders aren’t just dancing for sex; they’re dancing for their lives. Courtship is risky business for the males, since female peacock spiders will not hesitate to eat their suitors. But here’s the thing: they only seem to eat the bad dancers. How’s that for incentive?  

4. The babies are SO CUTE. 

Unexpected bonus: peacock spider spiderlings are ridiculously adorable.

After mating, Maratus mothers lay about a half-dozen eggs. (I don’t know if you remember Charlotte’s Web, but for spiders, six eggs is nothing.) With touching dedication, a female peacock spider guards her eggs for two weeks without eating, which often means her end. But when those two weeks are up, the little critters emerge, and boy, are they worth it. Look at that face! They’re like Ewoks with extra eyes!  

5. The two newest species are Sparklemuffin and Skeletorus.

Biologist Madeline Girard and her friend Eddie Aloise King were on a collecting mission in Queensland, Australia, scanning the ground for specimens of Maratus volans. Instead, they found two entirely new species.

Male Sparklemuffin (Maratus jactacus) spiders have butts like ski caps made out of jewels and a dance that makes them look very, very drunk.

© Jurgen Otto, with permission

The black and white Skeletorus (Maratus sceletus) was named after Skeletor from Masters of the Universe, and looks very different from any other peacock spider, which might mean the group is more diverse than scientists suspected. “I’ve always been fascinated by things that go unnoticed,” Girard tells mental_floss. You can see more of the spiders on Jurgen Otto's Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Watch How a Bioluminescence Expert Catches a Giant Squid

Giant squid have been the object of fascination for millennia; they may have even provided the origin for the legendary Nordic sea monsters known as the Kraken. But no one had captured them in their natural environment on video until 2012, when marine biologist and bioluminescence expert Edith Widder snagged the first-ever images off Japan's Ogasawara Islands [PDF]. Widder figured out that previous dives—which tended to bring down a ton of gear and bright lights—were scaring all the creatures away. (Slate compares it to "the equivalent of coming into a darkened theater and shining a spotlight at the audience.")

In this clip from BBC Earth Unplugged, Widder explains how the innovative camera-and-lure combo she devised, known as the Eye-in-the-Sea, finally accomplished the job by using red lights (which most deep-sea creatures can't see) and an electronic jellyfish (called the e-jelly) with a flashy light show just right to lure in predators like Architeuthis dux. "I've tried a bunch of different things over the years to try to be able to talk to the animals," Widder says in the video, "and with the e-jelly, I feel like I'm finally making some progress."

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

Big Questions
Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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