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Finding a new Peacock Spider! 🕷️

This is our story of discovering a new species of Peacock Spider! 🕷️

Volpe's Peacock Spider (Maratus volpei), a new species of Peacock Spider discovered by us in 2018.

There are currently nearly 100 species of Peacock Spiders (Maratus spp.) in Australia, with new ones being found every year. They are well known for the fancy dance moves males use to attract females. 🕺

Every naturalist dreams of finding new species and contributing to our knowledge of the natural world. Road tripping from Melbourne to our new home city in Darwin, we planned out places where we thought there was a potential for an undiscovered species to be. Peacock Spiders are mainly distributed through the southern half of Australia, fading out in the arid areas and tropics, leaving the Northern Territory with only one species, the widespread Maratus chrysomelas.

There are multiple species of undescribed Peacock Spiders known from salt lakes in Western Australia, so we thought our best bet was to target salt lakes in South Australia on our drive through. That brought us to investigate the magnificent Lake Hart right on the Stuart Highway just west of Pimba and Woomera.

Walking along the side of the lake and checking the low vegetation yielded no jumping spiders after an hour, but it was extremely interesting to see the amount of invertebrates that were preserved in the salt at the start of the lake, especially the large Desert Scorpions (Urodacus yaschenkoi). 🦂

The edge of the salt lake showing the dune vegetation

We headed back to the car and began to continue our venture north... that was until a massive rain cloud started to form! We turned back around and parked back at the Lake Hart lookout to watch the rain pour down on the deserted salt lake. As soon as the rain stopped we ran onto the completely transformed salt-lake. 🌧️

The pastel coloured salt lake with water on the surface

Ankle deep water that was slowly descending to the middle of the lake and evaporating. Trying to capture phone photos of this I felt something crawling on my ankle, looking down I was instantly in shock. I was looking at a white fluffy jumping spider! Capturing it, I instantly knew it was a Peacock Spider and one I hadn't recognised before. Had we done it?! 🤯🤯🤯

A male Volpe's Peacock Spider (Maratus volpei) on Lake Hart

We stooped around the salt lake and noticed more of these jumping spiders on the small exposed red rocks. They were on the small red rocks for a reason... they were displaying! The males must have waited until rain changed the colour of the salt lake and they were easily noticeable on the exposed red rocks.

We quickly found some pale females creeping up to the rocks to join the males. It was a huge success. We face-timed our good friend and arachnologist Joseph Schubert to reveal to him the spiders and he excitingly confirmed that they were an undescribed species he had not seen before. 🌈

A female Volpe's Peacock Spider (Maratus volpei) crawling up to a displaying male

Mr. Schubert described this species alongside six more in a taxonomic paper in March 2020. His decision to name the species after me was a great honour! I chatted to ABC Darwin on a radio interview about finding the spider after his research paper was released.

It is estimated that only 30% of Australia's 750,000 species have been named, meaning there is still lots of species for people to go out and discover! Every time you go on a bush walk make sure to take photos of what you see and upload them to communities like iNaturalist incase you stumble across something unusual! 📸


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