Dinner and a Show: Peacock Jumping Spider
It’s once again that time of year when store shelves abound in heart-shaped valentine boxes, kids are making valentines, couples are planning dates and maybe you’re doing none of those things, which is perfectly okay! Would you believe me if I told you that there are some creepy crawlers that may be planning their dates, too? One of my favorite activities, regardless of Valentine’s Day, is dinner and a movie, or dinner and a show. Peacock jumping spiders (Maratus spp.) may enjoy the same; however, dinner, if it’s included, will cost a male it’s life.
The peacock jumping spider is native to certain areas in Australia and occupies a wide distribution of habitats. Both males and females are about 5 mm in length. They are primarily hunters feeding on other spiders and insects; however, they do not rely on webs to catch their pray. They have also been observed to jump up to 40 times higher than their body length. These spiders each have 8 eyes that are equipped with a special visual system that allows them to see a full visible spectrum as well as in the UV-range. Although hunters, these spiders will rarely hurt a human.
Females and immature forms of these spiders are brown in color, but the males, by contrast, are rather intriguing. These male jumping spiders have a vividly colored abdomen flap that is able to be raised like a flag. They use this in their courtship dances. They are rather talented dancers, and their dances include fancy footwork, rapid vibrations and raising of their colorful abdomen flap. There are several dozen different species of peacock jumping spider, each of which use their own signature displays to court potential mates.
The female peacock jumping spiders, like other jumping spiders, are well equipped with excellent vision and are able to judge the males’ dance moves. But they are not just judging the leg-waving and color-flashing of the male’s courtship display; they are also sensing subtle vibrations in the ground. Males who put forth more effort in both the visual and the vibratory signaling have a higher likelihood of success in mating than those that focus just on vibratory signaling. After the “show” is done, it is up to the female whether or not she wants to go to dinner. In the male’s case, he hopes not. If a female chooses to mate with a male, she will approach the male and signal with her third pair of legs. If she is disinterested and the male continues to pursue her, she will attempt to attack, kill and feed on him. She will be especially more aggressive if she has already mated.
These spiders are beautifully colored and fun to watch dance. So if you ever visit Australia, see if you can spot one. Alternately, you can always look up a number of videos on the internet featuring their dances. These 8 legged spiders aren’t enjoying what I would call a peaceful dinner and a movie, so it is a good thing I am not in the arachnid world!
Kristen Stevens, BCE
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