Everyone knows that Australia is home to some of the world's scariest and most poisonous spiders. It turns out it's also got the world's cutest spiders. Yes, spiders really can be cute, as these species of peacock spiders, with nicknames like Sparklemuffin and Skeletorus, prove.
Even committed arachnophobes would fall in love these critters with just one look at their brightly-coloured faces. Except, of course, they're not faces. They're actually flaps on the male spider's abdomen that it can unfurl to attract a mate in a courtship dance.
Maratus mungaich, from near Perth in Western Australia Jürgen Otto
Although they may look huge in these photos, they're actually tiny. "They are 3 to 5 millimetres in length and people simply don't expect such beauty and complexity from something that small, let alone something that is a spider," says Jürgen Otto, a biologist at the Australian Department of Agriculture.
Not much was known about peacock spiders before Otto began documenting them in 2008, yet they're not rare. He says: "They occur from Melbourne all along the coast into northern Queensland. They can be observed close to all major population centres: Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, as well as Perth in the west."
There are now 58 known species of peacock spider. We feature some of them in this gallery. You can see more of Jürgen Otto's great photos of them on
his Flickr site. You can also learn more about them at his Facebook page, and there are some amazing videos on his Peacockspiderman YouTube channel.
Maratus speciosus, or Coastal Peacock spider. The orange hairs are only visible during its display. One of the most striking species in the genus Maratus, it can be found in metropolitan Perth Jürgen Otto
Maratus elephans got its name from its markings, which look like an elephant's head. This spider stands out from the rest of the Maratus genus due to the male's unusual courting dance. "The dance of this spider is similar to that of Maratus volans and Maratus pardus," Dr Otto said. "The one thing that makes it special is that one of the legs seems to be kept in front of the fan, and the other behind. That is quite unusual and I haven't seen in other spiders." Jürgen Otto Maratus jactatus was nicknamed "Sparklemuffin" by Maddie Girard, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley Jürgen Otto Maratus sceletus, nicknamed "Skeletorus" because of the white markings on the males' limbs, which give them the look of a skeleton. Jürgen Otto says: "In 2013 PhD student Madeline (Maddie) Girard from Berkeley in California and her Sydney friend Eddie Aloise King discovered this new species of peacock spider in southern Queensland. At the time it was undescribed and they found a single male only, no female, and both Maddie and I offered him every possible Maratus female we had at the time to elicit a romantic response. We have done it plenty of times, Maratus males are usually not that choosy. However, no luck here. He just would not display and died a lonely death. We have been wondering whether perhaps the female of this species would look different from all the other ones, and even the thought that it may not be a peacock spider at all crossed my mind. At the end of July though I travelled to the locality where Maddie and Eddie found him and managed not only to locate more male individuals but also to track down the elusive females that finally worked." Jürgen Otto
Maratus volans. Jürgen Otto was the first to film this spider's mating dance (see video below) Jürgen Otto
VIDEO Maratus literatus Jürgen Otto Maratus splendens is very closely related to the more commonly encountered and more widespread species Maratus pavonis, but differs in a number of aspects, such as the black band of scales behind the eyes Jürgen Otto Maratus pardus, from Cape Le Grand in Western Australia Jürgen Otto Maratus avibus was discovered by Jürgen Otto and David Knowles at Cape Arid in south-western Australia. The name "avibus" refers to the pattern that looks like two birds facing each other on the expanded abdominal fan Jürgen Otto Maratus sarahae, a species of peacock spider from the Stirling Range in Western Australia. Jürgen Otto says: "So far two peaks in the eastern Stirling Ranges, namely Ellen Peak and Bluff Knoll are the only locations that we definitely know this species exists. Considering that all specimens were found at high elevation (above 1000m) in a habitat that does not seem to exist elsewhere in Western Australia, it is possible that it is endemic to these two peaks. And if that is the case it is one of those unfortunate critters that will have nowhere to go when the climate warms." . This species has incredibly irridescent colours on its abdomen, which appear of different hue depending on light and appear best in full sunlight. It is larger than all other species of peacock spiders I photographed to date. Its a stunning spider living in a stunning environment. The species is closely related to Maratus mungaich another Western Australian species. It differs from it in having white hairs on the legs and different colour pattern on the abdomen. Jürgen Otto
VIDEO Maratus clupeatus, meaning "shield bearer". This species has so far only been found in the suburbs north of Perth. Jürgen Otto Maratus chrysomelas is found in the driest parts of Australia, across the continent Jürgen Otto Maratus madelineae was found by Adam Fletcher and Michael Doe in south-western Australia when it was still "unknown to science" but it has subsequently been named after Madeline (Maddie) Girard who is doing her PhD on Maratus at Berkeley in California and found individuals of this species Jürgen Otto