The remarkable courtship of the world’s most beautiful spider

April 14, 2011 • 9:21 am

Courtesy of Jurgen Otto, we have some spectacular images and video of a the Australian peacock spider, Maratus volans.  At only 4 mm long (about one-sixth of an inch), it’s easy to overlook, but how much you would miss if you did!

(Photo by Jurgen Otto)

Otto’s movie of its courtship behavior is nothing short of stupendous. Be sure to watch the whole 6.5 minute clip:

I find it very sad when, at 4:48, the unsuccessful males have to furl their bellyflaps and slink off.

Vibration is clearly important in this courtship, and, as demonstrated by Berkeley researcher Damian Elias, in the courtship of another jumping spider, Habronattas dossenus, recorded by sensitive microphones as a male displays to a dead female. This male is the Gene Krupa of arachnids:

Go here for other amazing spider videos (including more drumming) from the Elias lab.

h/t: Matthew Cobb and Alex Wild

57 thoughts on “The remarkable courtship of the world’s most beautiful spider

  1. “I find it very sad when, at 4:48, the unsuccessful males have to furl their bellyflaps and slink off.”
    I’ve had to do that myself quite a few times so I sympathise with them!

      1. With or without various flaps [eek!], if it comes to leg waving, I put down my foot.

        [Unless you think dancing applies of course. I may even shake my booty if it fits the dance.

        Funny, but human females doesn’t seem to mind at all!]

  2. It struck me that some of the ‘steps’ in the courtship dance are so similar to those used by birds of paradise. Is there a template for courtship dancing?

    heres that clip of dancing birds of paradise:

    1. I love the little guy at 2:00, he’s like the annoying popup ad of the natural world.

      But you know, looking at that, and thinking about your point about the similarity between the spiders’ dance and the birds’ – there’s a striking similarity between the two of them and various forms of human dance, as well. I definitely saw a bit of ballet in the first bird’s dancing.

      Maybe there’s just some forms of movement which are universally appealing among all species?

      1. Or easy to produce consistently.

        Maybe some constraint along what makes Lévy flights for food search so ubiquitous among animals?

    2. When the spider started dancing my first thought was that it should be called the ‘bird of paradise spider’ not the peacock spider. But I guess they didn’t see it dance before they named it.

  3. 3 things:

    1. Awesome clip! Horrible to watch during lunch, but awesome.

    2. That guy was a pretty horrible narrator.

    3. Were those the females eating the males that they turned down? Is that what they do?

    1. I actually thought the narration was refreshingly low-key and unpretentious. To each his own, I guess…

    2. Lots of male spiders get eaten after mating–the huge golden orb spiders you see all over here in the fall (Jorougumo) eat their mates. The females are just *huge*. She’s called the “Binding Lady” or the “Whore Spider” and is the subject of quite a few folk tales…

      But…Peacock Spider! Gorgeous! One of these days I will get to Australia *sigh*… The Jumpy Spider display was amazing (*love* the little jumpy spiders–I have two little Jumpy Spider friends in my house). Awesome post!

      1. Very nice; especially liked the vids of web repair and grasshopper-capture…with male freeloader! Great shots! (And story, of course.)

        1. Thanks! Later I found out that that male freeloader may very well have been taking that opportunity to mate and get outta town… (some spiders do it that way–not sure offhand whether jorougumo is one of them. Also, just realized that I had link fail up there– Here’s the one I measured with a ruler. She was very patient about letting me measure her…;-))

          1. I’m glad you fixed the link–what a lovely post! (And on my birthday, no less.)

            One year we had a ton of argiopes around our property, and we discovered that they do a really cool threat display of vibrating their web when disturbed. Really get the whole thing bouncing like a trampoline.

    3. It’s an interesting conflict. The males attract a female with a colorful display but, if unsuccessful, have to run away to avoid being eaten. Why does the female not eat the male during his display (if not amenable to courtship)?

  4. Mating for a lot of spiders is get in, mate and then run away fast. There are other tactics that some use, like being so tiny in relation to the female that she barely notices you, or binding her up in webbing before you do the deed.

    Jumping spiders are great because they have all these behaviors–cocking their ‘heads’, signaling with their legs or pedipalps–that makes it really hard not to anthropomorphize them.

  5. Is it just me or did the pattern inside the “flurl” look like a spider? (If the narrator mentioned it I didn’t hear, although I didn’t get very good sound quality)

    1. Yes, at times it looked sort of like a super-image of a spider. And also like an ancient petroglyph! I was wondering what it would look like in UV light…

  6. Puts paid to the (erroneously, in my opinion) long-held notion of seemingly “complex” vertebrate behaviour requiring some sort of cognitive awareness further than that of the “mere” invertebrates.

  7. I work in an Arachnology lab, and this video has been getting some serious love. Jumping spiders are truly amazing animals!

  8. Brightly colored butt-flaps on males, that fly up in the presence of females? Can you imagine the scene in a Miami nightclub?

    (Immediately files for provisional patent…)

  9. Only a couple of weeks ago in Canberra I saw perhaps half a dozen of these little spiders, male and female, jumping all over me and the book I was reading (in Canberra). If only I had paid more attention!

  10. Aw! They looked so despondent when they had to pack up and go home. Sad indeed. Although, given the choice, I’d pick rejection over digestion. That heartless harpy!

    Anyway, thanks for posting this Dr Coyne! It’s a stunning video which shows that not only does Australia have the most ruthlessly deadly spiders ever, we also have, hands down, the most adorable 🙂


  11. What a wonderful post! I just spent a few hours at the EliasLab website; how sweet that their Behavioral Ecology papers are all available. Otto’s photography is astonishing, as are the mic-ed vids from Elias…such a feast! Thank you!

  12. And here I thought, for once, I was going to see a spider mating display that wasn’t apparently all about convincing the female not to have a snack.

    This one is quite extravagant, though, and it really ramps up my estimation of what a spider brain is capable of.

  13. Few spider eyes are as beautiful as these. Usually two are clearly visible, but these 4 look like cabochon emeralds. (In the dark, when caught by headlamps, all the Wolf Spider eyes sparkle like diamonds scattered around the desert ground.) This spider is exquisite. Thank you.

    1. The only thing missing from the first video is a disco glitter ball. And perhaps a Beegees soundtrack…

  14. “…the Gene Krupa of arachnids…”

    Ha!! How did I miss that? Will be passing that on to my dad :-))

    And this just occurred to me: those male peacock spiders are *colorful*. Slightly smaller it looks like than the female, but not much. Interesting– for many spiders, it’s the female who is brightly colored (and often several times bigger than the male, like the Jorougumo–Nephila clavata that I linked to up there under Tim Martin’s comment at #3). I wonder why the peacock jumpy spider is different? Are most males of the Salticidae family like that?

  15. Wow. That was awesome. So did that peacock spider get eaten by a female of his own species?

    Watching the video I kept wondering whether all that carry-on would attract predators. It seems a little high-risk — even before you consider the danger of being eaten by the very girls you’re trying to impress.

    Those spider remind me of this little guy.

    1. I love spiders, but that little thing is especially adorable. Must be the eye::body ratio.

  16. I downloaded the drumming spider video, played it at 1/10 speed and tried to find out how he hits the big drum. Either the video has a the sound delayed by 0.2 seconds wrt. the images, or he makes “bang” when he moves the arms *up*. Btw., he sounds more like Louie Bellson than Krupa.

  17. jumpers are the most smart and beautiful spiders in thw world…
    do the color formation in a dance club entrance name it Peacock Club near a beach in Myconos or Ibiza or Brazil during the carnival and have a good time

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