It's not every day that you get to call something a "Sparklemuffin" without sounding like a little girl fresh out of kindergarten, but if you ever lay eyes on the stunning Maratus jactatus spider, that's exactly what you can do. You may even get to see a "Skeletorous" while you're at it.
These are the common names for two newly discovered Australian spiders of the Maratus spider genus - a group of jumping spiders who are often referred to as "peacock spiders" for their stunningly colorful and flamboyant courtship displays.
Madelyn Girard, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, spends her time studying these unusual arachnids, and had the honor of naming two of the most recently discovered of the genus - a duty she clearly had a bit of fun with.
A paper recently published in the journal Peckhamia details how Skeletorous, officially named Maratus sceletus, is actually the most unique, looking much like its name implies - a white skeletal design over a black abdomen. On the other hand, Sparklemuffin, despite its incredibly unique name, looks far more like most peacock spiders - complete with vibrant blue and red markings that are best displayed on unfurling abdominal folds that give the remarkable genus its name. (Scroll to read on...)
Jürgen Otto, an entomologist who specializes in photographing these arachnids and who co-authored the study, even recently told Live Science that he believes Skeletorous' unique markings help sell the theory that there are countless other peacock spiders out there just waiting to be found. He and Girard believe that perhaps Sparklemuffin-like spiders already known are but a fraction of a far larger and diverse-looking group.
Otto also described the incredible displays that had grabbed his attention both as a scientist and as a photographer in the first place.
He explained that when a male Skeletorous in particular drew close to a female, "he exploded into a firework of activity. The spinnerets were extended and flicked around at an amazing speed, one of the legs was flexed like he wanted to show off his muscles, and he moved constantly from one side of the grass blade to the other."
This is a very beautiful and unusual side to the traditionally dark and dangerous world that is the spider sex life, much of which you can read about here.
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