peacock spider

A male Maratus volans spider raises his legs and abdominal flap during a courtship display. (Photo: Jurgen Otto/Flickr)

If you're among the many people who find spiders scary, the thought of a jumping spider — some of which can seemingly teleport — might be terrifying. Not only are most spiders incapable of harming humans, though, but some tiny jumping spiders in Australia go a few steps further by charming us.

Male peacock spiders are talented dancers, coincidentally entertaining humans with their elaborate efforts to woo female peacock spiders. The dances include fancy footwork, rapid vibrations and a vividly colored abdomen flap that can be raised like a flag. A few dozen species exist, most of which are about an eighth of an inch long, furry and big-eyed. It's easy to see why they've been called "kittens with too many legs" and have reportedly helped people conquer their fear of spiders.

In the video below, a 0.15-inch member of the species Maratus speciosus — native to beaches near Perth in Western Australia — shows off a variety of moves that have endeared him to 1.1 million viewers on YouTube. This is one of several peacock-spider videos filmed by entomologist Jurgen Otto, who's among the only people to ever capture high-quality footage of these miniature marvels in action:

Each species of peacock spider, all of which belong to the genus Maratus, uses its own signature display and dance moves to court potential mates. The video below shows both the male and female Maratus avibus, a species that was just discovered and named by Jurgen and his colleagues in late 2013. These spiders were found at Cape Arid in Western Australia, and Jurgen explains the name "avibus" is a Latin reference to the males' abdomen flap, whose pattern can resemble two birds facing each other:

Jumping spiders have excellent vision, making Maratus females well-equipped to judge the leg-waving and color-flashing frenzy of a male's courtship display. But that's not all they're judging. Even though spiders don't have ears like we do, their legs can sense subtle vibrations in the ground — like those produced when males rub their heads and abdomens together or tap their legs on the ground.

Madeline Girard, a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley, recently collected more than 30 peacock spider species and recorded their "beats" in a controlled lab setting to study the females' criteria for selecting the best dancers. Check out this Science Friday report on her research:

For more photos and videos of peacock spiders, be sure to visit Otto's Flickr and YouTube pages.

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Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.