A tiny, brightly coloured spider renowned for its funky courtship dances has seven more species than previously believed, a Melbourne researcher who was once terrified of the arachnids has discovered.
Joseph Schubert has described the new species of peacock spider in a research paper published last week in leading international animal taxonomy journal Zootaxa.
Peacock spiders – also known as the genus Maratus – are unique to Australia and have garnered a strong following online, with videos of their courtship dances racking up millions of views.
The Village People’s YMCA and the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive are among the tracks they have boogied to.
Other videos feature the spiders with photoshopped accessories such as maracas and the Star Wars light-sabers.
The latest research of Mr Schubert, 22, brings the total number of Maratus species he has discovered to 12.
But many of the species were first noticed by spider-loving citizen scientists, including those involved with the non-profit group Project Maratus.
The arachnophiles had documented where they had seen the spiders and took photos.
“Someone would send me a picture and I’d think, ‘Oh wow, that could be a new species!'” Mr Schubert said.
His latest research was also funded by Bush Blitz Australia and Museums Victoria, where he works as a legacy registration officer in entomology and arachnology.
But he hasn’t always had an affinity for spiders.
“Despite growing up terrified of spiders, Joseph became fascinated by them over time and has already proven himself a world leader in Maratus research,” Museums Victoria said in a statement.
Five of the freshly discovered species are from Western Australia, one is from South Australia and the other is from Victoria.
He named them after the spider colours, location or in honour of the people who first discovered the species.
His favourite of the group is Maratus constellatus, found in Kalbarri, about seven hours drive north of Perth.
It’s so named as the pattern on its abdomen reminded the scientist of Vincent van Gogh’s work The Starry Night.
There are now 85 known species in the Maratus genus, but Mr Schubert believes there are more to be found.
“Considering how many species have only recently been discovered and how many sites are yet to be explored, I’m still actively on the hunt for new species,” he said.