Everyone knows the classic example of a flashy male peacock showing off its flamboyant feathers to attract a female counterpart. These traits are considered the epitome of the products of sexual selection1. However, few are aware of an equally impressive example, the Australian peacock spider.
There are 48 described species of peacock spiders of the genus Maratus, part of the jumping spider family. In these spiders, the males possess flap-like extensions of the abdomen that are covered in brightly-colored hairs ranging from an extravagant red to turquoise blue2.
These ornate displays are used by males to court females during mating. In order to effectively court a female, the male must perform a rather rigorous routine. First, he raises his abdomen, then extends the colorful flap upwards to produce a fan of color— similar to that of a peacock’s extended train of tail feathers. Next, he raises a third set of legs in the air and claps them together to further gain the attention of his prospective mate. When the male is ready, he will approach the female to perform a dance that consists of waving his arms, vibrating his abdomen and dancing from side to side3.
If you’d like to see the mating dance in action, check out this video:
Although this may seem like fun and games, such a courtship does not come without costs. Besides the energetic costs of producing such elaborate physical traits, as well as performing the dance itself (which can last up to an hour long!), these males may face additional costs including disapproval from a female. If the male performs his dance and the female remains uninterested, she may choose to attack him, kill him, and eventually eat him. As if this weren’t stressful enough for males, this is not where the danger ends. Even if the female decides that the male is suitable and chooses to mate with him, she may decide afterwards to eat him anyway (a phenomenon known as sexual cannibalism)4. That is, with every mating attempt a male is putting his own life in danger at the expense of the potential for future offspring, and hence increased fitness.
So, the next time you’re feeling down about that mediocre blind date you went on, or the lack of romance in your life, just remind yourself of the trials and tribulations of the peacock spider. At the very least, you may find solace in the fact that your valentine’s day dinner date is primarily focused on consuming the contents of their own plate instead of consuming you.
[By: Josie Hubbard]
1Andersson, Malte B. Sexual selection. Princeton University Press, 1994.
2Stavenga, Doekele G., Jürgen C. Otto, and Bodo D. Wilts. “Splendid coloration of the peacock spider Maratus splendens.” Journal of The Royal Society Interface121 (2016): 20160437.
3Girard, Madeline B., Michael M. Kasumovic, and Damian O. Elias. “Multi-modal courtship in the peacock spider, Maratus volans (OP-Cambridge, 1874).” PLoS One9 (2011): e25390.
4Elgar, Mark A. “Sexual cannibalism in spiders and other invertebrates.” Cannibalism: ecology and evolution among diverse taxa. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1992): 128-155.
Main featured image [Jurgen Otto Source]