A cute species of peacock spider has been named after Nemo, the beloved clownfish in Pixar's Finding Nemo franchise. Maratus nemo, which is only about the size of a grain of rice at just over 4mm in length, was discovered by a citizen scientist in South Australia. The new species has been named for its iridescent orange and white stripes, which scientists say are used to attract a mate during courtship. Peacock spiders belong to the genus Maratus, which has come to prominence in the last decade due to the male's vibrant colours and dancing displays.
Maratus nemo is described in a new paper published in Evolutionary Systematics, authored by Australian spider enthusiast Joseph Schubert.
Schubert, an 23-year-old arachnologist at Museums Victoria said, it has a really vibrant orange face with white stripes on it, which kind of looks like a clown fish, so I thought Nemo would be a really suitable name for it. Curiously, Maratus nemo was found in an ephemeral wetland complex on marshy vegetation in shallow water. No other species of Maratus are known to occupy such habitats.
The tiny Peacock spiders, or Maratus spiders, are native to Australia and are internet sensations for their elaborate courtship dances. During the species unique dancing courtship, the male elevates a single leg, slowly waving it in a partially flexed position. As the female approaches, the male raises and more rapidly waves both legs.
Maratus nemo was discovered by Sheryl Holliday, a South Australian citizen scientist and an ecological field officer for Nature Glenelg Trust said, the species appears to be quite widespread, according to Holliday. I've seen about 40 individuals all up at three different locations, I'm sure there would be more in the south east of South Australia and in western Victoria as well.
Holliday hand-collected five Maratus nemo specimens four male and one female from Mount McIntyre and Nangwarry, South Australia, in November 2020. She knew this spider was something different from the moment she found it, but she couldn't identify the spiders as any particular species.
She said, he had a plain back but his orangey-red face is what stood out and I hadn't seen anything like it before, so I knew it had to be a new one.
Holliday posted photos to peacock spider appreciation page Australian Jumping Spiders in the hope someone would be able to identify them and the photos caught the eye of Schubert.
Schubert said, I came across them and I thought, 'Oh, wow that looks like it might be a new species' so I got in contact with her and she ended up sending me some specimens. I got the specimens in the post and then I took a whole bunch of photos of them while they were alive and documented the courtship display of the male. I preserved them in ethanol and brought them back to the lab and I studied the features which made them different from other spiders. Generally the behaviour will be different between each species although we use other characteristics like the patterns of the male to determine different species from each other.'
To date there are now 92 species of peacock spider up from just 15 in 2011.
Schubert, who found his first peacock spider in 2016 said, I've described 13 species of peacock spiders and five species of their cousins Jotus, which is another genus of jumping spider.
Seven of those new peacock spiders came in 2020 alone.
Last year, Schubert reported the discovery of a peacock spider resembling Vincent van Gogh's famous Starry Night painting, in Little Desert National Park in Victoria.
He said, i think Peacock spiders have captured the public's attention just because they're really, really cute for spiders, they've got these massive forward-facing eyes and you can relate to them a lot more than you can to a Huntsman for example.
Huntsman are generally associated with Australia, but their range stretches much of Asia, Africa and South America too. Most huntsman spiders do not build webs to capture their prey, and instead hunt and forage for food, running at up to around 3 feet a second. They can be found inside people's houses, crawling up the walls and scurrying around the floor, and are big enough to give people quite a shock.
While they can bite, huntsman aren't considered dangerous to humans and some Australians don't mind them around the house because they eat up pests like cockroaches.
Schubert said, i used to be terrified of spiders and I will admit that I would probably still be a little bit scared if I came across a Huntsman or something by surprise, but I can really I can rationalise it now. Roughly only 30 per cent of Australia's biodiversity has being formally documented scientifically, so this means that we could be losing species before we even know that they exist. Taxonomy allows us to have a baseline understanding of our biodiversity.
The expert said fire, pesticides and habitat loss are currently major threats to many Australian animals, including the peacock spider.