Dance of the Peacock Spider

Dance of the Peacock Spider

Doing the Y: Only 4 mm in size, the Australian male peacock spider (Maratus volans) puts on an impressive courtship display, rivaling the Village People in Peacock Spider Dances to YMCA . Described by researchers as multi-modal, the dance includes 3rd leg waves, synchronized unfurling of colorful belly flaps, abdominal bobbing and pedipalp flickers. As if these visual displays were not enough, the spider generates bursts of vibrations carried through the ground to signal his passion for his lady love. 

Darwin’s Dilemma: Is there an selective advantage to such complexity? How did it evolve? As the rituals get more elaborate, there may be diminishing returns given the limitations of biological cost and sensory perception. Translation: is it a waste of time? 🙂 But studies show that redundant signals allow our spidery suitor to adapt to varied environments. Too dark to see the colorful fans? The seismic display compensates for lack of light.It is thought that each signal carries a different message for the female to evaluate. It’s also an exercise in self preservation: males risk falling prey to the cannibalistic tendency of the female spider. Web building male spiders generate shudder vibrations that measurably calm the female’s aggression. Others present a silk-wrapped nuptial gift that distracts the female long enough to get the deed done. An unusual tactic called thanatosis is to is to feign death when the female shows signs of terminating the romantic act. Once the female has dragged off the motionless male, she begins to feed on his nuptial gift upon which the male quickly revives to resume mating!

So humans, do you see any parallels in strategy? Perhaps, you too met your mate on the web?

▶Nuptial gifts: http://goo.gl/VCsbzN

▶Spider Shudders: Male courtship vibrations delay predatory behaviour in female spiders. Wignall and Herberstein (2013) http://goo.gl/wT29bD

▶Dance Moves: Multi-Modal Courtship in the Peacock Spider, Maratus volans. Girard et al. (2011) http://goo.gl/SlIK1E

▶Gifs: via http://biomorphosis.tumblr.com/

#ScienceSunday  

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112 Responses to Dance of the Peacock Spider

  1. Satyr Icon says:


    I would still prefer it to providing a performance than resorting to roofies or physical force. But considering what happens to some male spiders after a courtship, … whatever works fella! 😉

  2. Rajini Rao says:


    Satyr Icon would you believe it: spiders can fake the nuptial gift so that the silk only covers a worthless twig, in place of a tasty tidbit. On the one hand, they conserve their resources but they also run a greater risk of being devoured 🙂 

  3. Satyr Icon says:


    Yes it’s a tough life being a male spider, but the female does it [cannibalising it’s mate] all for the babies. Evolutionarilly speaking of course. Not that she has sat down and done a rational assessment of the situation.

  4. Rajini Rao says:


    Jeni Ong , I have to confess that I looked for a scientific  excuse to post these 🙂


  5. …wave em like you just don’t care!  

  6. Rajini Rao says:


    Jeni Ong , that Wiki link is a treasure trove of hilarious parallels with the trials and tribulations of human dating/mating 🙂 


    How about this: if the males mate only once because they are eaten afterwards, they are considered monogamous. Haha, that is one way to deal with the issue of promiscuity. 

  7. Thomas Kang says:


    If I’m not mistaken — and I usually am — William Butler Yeats originally had initially entitled his poem “Leda and the Spider,” but he was forced to abandon the title after discovering that the original Greek myth required a swan.

  8. Satyr Icon says:


    Jeni Ong it’s common knowledge down_under here where we do have red backs, that the female is much bigger than the male, and eats it. But I thought the knowledge was even more ubiquitous in the northern hemisphere because the red backs cousins are called black widows. And I thought they were thusly named because they eated their way out of marriage? 🙂


    etymonline says of “black widow”


    “type of poisonous spider (Latrodectus mactans) in U.S. South, 1904, so called from its color and from the female’s supposed habit of eating the male after mating (they are cannibalistic, but this particular behavior is rare in the wild). Sometimes also known as shoe-button spider. The name black widow is attested earlier (1830s) as a translation of a name of the “scorpion spider” of Central Asia.”

  9. Rajini Rao says:


    Thomas Kang , that’s quite a poem. I’m not surprised that it was skipped in my high school poetry class 😉

  10. Rajini Rao says:


    Jeni Ong that’s what my husband worries about. I usually poke a hole in the lid with some violence and that takes care of the problem. So now, his hold on me has dwindled to remembering the wifi password and installing software updates 😀

  11. Rajini Rao says:


    Jeffrey J Davis you must mean HUNGRY. You saw those forelegs and eight them up 🙂

  12. Satyr Icon says:


    Yes, how can you not be hypnotised by those charming eyes?

  13. Thomas Kang says:


    I felt compelled to look up “spider sex poetry,” and these turned up:


    http://goo.gl/yunRCb


    http://goo.gl/cP9pOV


    Finally, this one from Walt Whitman, which I presume is either a spider who has been stood up or is looking for a quiet space to engage in a bit of arachno-onanism:


    http://www.bartleby.com/142/208.html

  14. Thomas Kang says:


    I just had to use the term after having read this bit by Twain (Mark, not Shania) just the other day. I might have to give it another read, this time with spider mind:


    http://www.textfiles.com/etext/AUTHORS/TWAIN/onanism.txt

  15. Rajini Rao says:


    Thanks for those poetic offerings, Thomas Kang . (These would do as well in place of silk wrapped nuptial gifts, by the way). I had to shed a tear for the existentialistic angst of Whitman’s noiseless, patient spider. Sigh! 😀

  16. Rajini Rao says:


    Gnotic Pasta , re. the second poem, I thought that Kali would make an excellent name for a pet black widow spider. 

  17. Thomas Kang says:


    It would be fun to watch Kali fornicate in her little jar.


  18. There is so much for the human male to learn from counterparts from other species. 

  19. Gustavo P says:


    amazing… who said males were boring?  lol

  20. Thomas Kang says:


    Was it existentialist angst? I get it now. To think all these years I thought it was about sexistentialist angst — you know, being spied on by Whitman as the spider looks around for some quiet time in its own company.

  21. Rajini Rao says:


    Flowers, and some well executed maneuvers, Tom Willingham 🙂

  22. Rose L. says:


    It’s so hard to be a male spider! Those mating dances are so cute!!!

  23. Rajini Rao says:


    Craig Froehle that was a more modern interpretation of the peacock spider dance in your link. I guess the Village People are quite dated by now 🙂 Peacock Spider Dances to YMCA

  24. rare avis says:


    This is very cool… So similar to other male mating displays… I’ll bet, when we decode dinosaurs, we’ll find that the males were VERY colorful… in many cases.

  25. rare avis says:


    Rajini Rao


     LOL! Thanks, sharing!


  26. Re: picture 4, the Lorax did say if we planted a Truffula tree he would come back. He just didn’t mention he’d be tiny but with a really long arm.

  27. Rajini Rao says:


    Matthew Baggott , he does look cute and hirsute like a Lorax 🙂

  28. Rajini Rao says:


    rare avis there was a recent paper on the explosion of melanosome (pigment producing cells) at some point in evolution that is thought to account for the colorful feathers and skin in birds and mammals. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140212-bird-dinosaur-mammal-color-metabolism/


  29. Oooh my … hahaha … such an awesome little creature … =D

  30. Rajini Rao says:


    Jeff Brown haha, do let us know if any of these strategies turn out to be successful 😉

  31. Rajini Rao says:


    Magnus Fahlén do you think you could manage some of those moves? 🙂

  32. Rajini Rao says:


    LOL. Thank you for that ear worm, Rashid Moore! 🙂


  33. Love the spectacular peacock spider courtship. One small correction: the substrate vibrations used in courtship are not ultrasonic, which typically refers to sounds above the frequency range of human hearing. The substrate vibrations used (referred to as rumble-rumps, crunch-rolls, grind-revs) are fairly low frequency, with fundamental frequencies of 80 to a few hundred Hertz. 

  34. Rajini Rao says:


    Steve Esterly , believe it or not, I wondered about it too and nearly revised to “subsonic” because I wrote that sentence from memory. Many thanks, I will edit the text 🙂


  35. Hahaha … probably not and I would most likely make a fool out of myself if I gave it a try Rajini Rao … ;-D

  36. rare avis says:


    Rajini Rao


     Thank you for the link! It’s  fascinating… As for the interpretation, I’m not a scientist- but I’m wont to conclude : That the rise of color is DEFINITELY related to pair bonding or mating displays, as is evidenced by it’s proliferation in modern day critters like the spider- and  that  while the colors themselves might not have imparted a specific advantage (as in camouflage) – they likely were the visual manifestation of genes that selected for some other adaptation that imparted an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps raptors with bright feathers also had better absorption of some nutrient- or an advantageous new immune function- or a behavioral change, like less or more aggression…. And it took off from there… It’s interesting that the Russian fox experiment proved that changes in behavior, like tameness- were never selected for without concomitant  changes in the color of the coat and in morphology- like floppy ears and snouts that maintained their puppy-like dimensions through maturity…  So my guess is that Color is the visual CLUE for an individual’s likelihood to survive- and therefore becomes important in a mate’s selection process- but the color itself isn’t necessarily the thing that provides the advantage. Hmmm.  I’m really just learning about this stuff- but I’d love to hear what they find out about the advantages of color pigmentation… Thanks for letting me think/learn out loud, and please keep posting!


  37. The vibrations are not really subsonic, either, Rajini Rao, since that would be below the range of human hearing, about 20 Hz. Sorry to be so picky this morning 🙂

  38. Rajini Rao says:


    Duh-oh! Steve Esterly , of course you are correct. I actually listened to the sounds on this video clip from the Elias lab in Berkeley: http://nature.berkeley.edu/eliaslab/Collaborative_Maratus.html


  39. Oh, and btw today is also #SpiderSunday, of course!


  40. And what does the female spider do ?

  41. Rajini Rao says:


    Alfonso Ramirez the female is quite choosy and critical of the male! She neither dances nor sports such colorful displays. Spider females show a reluctance to mating and some of the male’s tactics are to entice and distract her long enough to get the job done 🙂

  42. Tau-Mu Yi says:


    OMG and who says Biology is not fun! Of course it is kinda sad when a spider is a better dancer than you.

  43. Rajini Rao says:


    Tau-Mu Yi mostly everyone is a better dancer than me 😀

  44. Ron Rambo says:


    Seen this before. Very cool. More men need to pay attention.

  45. Di Cleverly says:


    I don’t know about natural selection, but this is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!


    Thanks for posting! 🙂

  46. Rajini Rao says:


    Di Cleverly ,  you’re welcome. I was looking into the process of “sexual selection” which is not so easily explained by Darwin’s fitness theories and “natural selection”. The peacock’s train is so long and cumbersome that it carries a negative fitness risk by making the poor bird more susceptible as prey. There are some really interesting evolutionary theories for why these exaggerated traits are maintained, and I hope to sum up the arguments some time 🙂

  47. Gary Ray R says:


    I love this little dancing fool.  


    Thanks Rajini Rao 


    You should repost over in Science on G+


    I posted a short video by Jurgen Otto of one of these months ago and it was well read, but you have much more science in your post.


    Here is the video.


    Peacock Spider 7

  48. Rajini Rao says:


    Thanks, Gary Ray R , will do!


    He is quite the little fool, isn’t he?


    I love all of Jurgen Otto’s videos, narrated in that calm voice with the Aussie (?) accent. 

  49. Rajini Rao says:


    Yun Zhou , all the more to hypnotize 🙂

  50. Di Cleverly says:


    I’d love to read that if you get around to it Rajini Rao! 🙂


  51. What is up with the spiders and their cannibalism?

  52. Rajini Rao says:


    Sordatos Cáceres , the Wiki entry for sexual cannibalism is a fascinating read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_cannibalism


    The various hypotheses include adaptive foraging (hungry female prefers to eat rather than mate), aggressive spillover (female uses the same drive for both preying and potential mates), mate choice (handy way to get rid of unwanted and unfit suitors) and mistaken identity (which sounds like aggressive spillover to me). Apparently, in all cannibalistic species, the female is quite reluctant to mate. 

  53. Maya says:


    Dancin spiders!!! Boogie! Lalalala!

  54. Maya says:


    Tiniest dancer in the world! Only 4mm in size!!!!


  55. What a wonderful looking spider 🙂 And very enjoyable album 🙂

  56. Robert Moser says:


    If this has already been posted and I missed it, I apologize.  Absolutely relevant, I promise.  😀


    Peacock Spider 6


  57. do you know about the  araneae invasion in our solar system.

  58. Kawthar A says:


    Thanks Rajini Rao for showing us that spiders can be so much fun sometimes 😉

  59. Maya says:


    Even my mom wasn’t afraid of this spider! And she usually freaks out when she sees a spider!

  60. Seth Burgess says:


    I’m pretty sure these gifs are all produced from Peacockspiderman (Jurgen Otto) videos, as he’s the only one I know of that’s managed to catch them on video (there’s 10 on youtube now!).  I’ve seen a few stills by others.

  61. Rajini Rao says:


    Seth Burgess indeed yes! As is the YouTube video linked in my post. There is also a link to one of Jurgen Otto’s videos in the comments above. Too bad Peacockspiderman is not an active account. 

  62. Niki K says:


    Rajini Rao spidey spidey spidey… woo woo

  63. Marta Rauch says:


    Amazing! thanks for the interesting information and discusson, Rajini Rao 

  64. Rajini Rao says:


    Thanks for stopping by, Marta Rauch , and for your encouraging comment 🙂

  65. Mia Voss says:


    Hands down (or hands up) – this is one of THE best comment threads ever. Rajini Rao – you are my new #GPlusCrush  😀


    #spideySense  

  66. Tom Lee says:


    So interesting spider. Wondering He ever plays American football and just got a touch down? 🙂


  67. so mam.. i do like your scientific outlook..

  68. Maya says:


    Madison Styles how could that be scary!!! It must be the only cute spider in the world!!!! OK you might be scared but…

  69. Maya says:


    Different  individuals have different dance moves. 🙂

  70. Rajini Rao says:


    Maya Krawczyk , apparently people have 27 different dance moves, as seen in this video that Suhail Manzoor recently posted 😉


    Как танцуют девушки

  71. Doc Rajani says:


    Never had imagined such an interesting spider world!!…wonder if the colors on them are true natural colors??…if so…amazing!!

  72. Rajini Rao says:


    Doc Rani miniature beauties, all natural colors too! There are videos on YouTube showing them in their natural habitat. 

  73. Bhim Yadav says:


    very nice …..pic

  74. 楊朱 says:


    rarely encountered, thanks !


  75. The type and design of the spider is good for  the future without man flights to penetrate the space by using small intelligent robots and intelligent vehicles biological and mechanical.

  76. Alec Lim says:


    So you think you can dance?


  77. I want to download the last image

  78. NG Jellico says:


    These spiders look like they are happy to be alive

  79. John Roberts says:


    Who says spiders are dull.


  80. These spiders are fabulous!


  81. He’s waving at me.👋👋

  82. sunitha says:


    i should learn dance from him

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