Maratus pavonis! Hooray!
Finding myself in the southern suburbs today I thought I would have a sticky beak in some of the bush reserves to see what I could find... primarily in the way of Maratus as we seem to be hitting the breeding season right now. Well, I was not disappointed. Barely ten steps in and I spotted my first Maratus pavonis right in the middle of the path! Not that it was much of a path, being completely covered with leaf litter. Bending down to have a closer look, I spotted two more males within 30cm of the first one. From there it just got silly. It seemed everywhere I looked there were males doing their little single crooked leg wave from the tops of fallen leaves and twigs. I counted 12 males in quick succession before spotting my first female. Man, they are big! The males are quite petite to say the least (noticably smaller than Saitis speciosus) and the females look like they outweigh them by at least two-to-one, if not three. The females have really big, really shiny abdomens. See below for a photo.
So I was quickly witness to my first courtship dance, yippee! These are such charming little Salticids. Their dance is slightly different to S. speciosus, with more blatant vibrating and side-to-side movement. The males almost look like they are shaking themselves to bits, it is so kinetic. It reminded me a little bit of how female Christmas Island Red Crabs shake themselves when they release their eggs into the surf. They also shake their legs more, whereas S. speciosus seem to keep most of the vibrating focussed on the abdomen.
I was also surprised at how small the abdominal flaps are... unless I never saw one fully deployed. I was expecting a large, ostentatious fan like Maratus volans but it looked very small to me, barely bigger than completing the border around the peacock eye they have on their abdomen as it were. Certainly not as large by square millimeterage as S. speciosus despite that species lacking flaps, although male S. speciosus are significantly bigger than male M. pavonis.
Anyway, this particular dance was unsuccessful. The female pretty much just sat there (though she seemed enthralled to me) and the male gave up after a while and ran away. I of course failed to take a single decent in-focus shot of it. See below for the best shot I did get. I had to be very careful where I placed my feet because it was so hard to see the little blighters because of the leaf litter. At one point after picking up my backpack and spending a couple of minutes carefully checking I didn't have any hangers-on, I looked down to see a male sitting atop my big toe eagerly waving. Did I mention they were charming? =D
I spent a good hour on my hands and knees in that 10m stretch of ground til my batteries started to give out (I think I need to buy a new set as these rechargables don't seem to charge fully anymore) and photographs became a (real) problem. I counted a total of 26 males and 8 females all up, the females were extremely hard to spot being brown amongst the leaf litter, and witnessed three courtship dances... all unsuccessful. The best was of course the last, had perfecting framing, but my batteries finally died on me. Oh well. There was also a great photo opportunity when there were 4 males lined up along a twig, each about 8cm apart all doing their leg waves. Would've been a great photo if my batteries worked, and I had a decent camera, and was a good photographer! =D
I'll come back a little later to expound on behavioural observations.
All in all a great day!
Yangebup, October 2009.
+++ UPDATE +++
 Easily a hundred occasions of a male doing his slow jerky leg wave. I didn't even bother counting instances frankly. At any given time I had half a dozen males in sight, with at least one of them waving.
 Only two occasions where I noticed a male would do the forceful "leg stomp" with one signalling leg. I recall reading that this is a common behaviour for Maratus males to attract the attention of females, particularly amongst leaf litter which apparently would make an ideal sounding board. So it was interesting that I didn't witness many instances of this, particularly when I have with a much smaller sample size of male S. speciosus on Tetragonia decumbens, which is a succulent plant and not very good for making percussive sounds on. Unless the sound desired by males is very low frequency... ?
 Twenty three occasions of males doing their "lanquid stretch" posture (see below for photo) where they would stretch out one signalling leg and kind of hold it there as if to say "look at the size of this ladies!" =)
 Three courtship dances, all unsuccessful. Much like S. speciosus, once a male spots a female he will race up to her and stop about 8cms away. He will then raise both signalling legs not-quite-straight-up in the air and look for some kind of specific response from the female. I've still not worked out yet whether females remaining still is a good sign or if they are supposed to respond in some way to entice the male over. Anyway, the male will slowly work his way closer to the female and begin shaking his legs and body in a kind of vibrating motion. As mentioned above, the courtship dance of M. pavonis is more frenetic than that of S. speciosus with the male seeming to shake his whole body and also "bouncing" up and down slightly by "sitting up" on his remaining legs.
As the male gets more enthusiastic with his display he will also shake his signalling legs side-to-side while sticking them up in the air. I can't really describe the motion properly in words, but it's kind of a "to the left... 1... 2" ... "to the right...1... 2" type movement. I captured it somewhat in the photo below. At the height of his display he will also stick his abdomen vertically in the air to show his peacock markings and deploy his flaps, all the while vibrating wildly. As I mentioned previously the flaps do not seem to be very big as such. The males are quite small and have brilliantly white markings to their pedipalps which they constantly move about. Being coloured how they are, they no doubt play a specific role in the courtship display as well.
 Of the three dispays, this was the response of the females:
1) Nothing. The female essentially just sat there. She pivotted on the spot a couple of times and freely looked around, but generally did not exhibit any behaviour of note. The male eventually gave up and ran away.
2) Aggression. I think the male in this case got too close in the first instance and the female lunged at him almost instantly after he started displaying. It didn't seem a serious attack, more of a warding off. The male ran away.
3) Abdomen and leg display. Somewhat similarly to my observations of S. speciosus, in the final display I witnessed (which lasted the longest I might add) about half way through, as the male was getting closer, the female started girating her abdomen and sticking it up in the air a little bit. In stark contarast to the frantic movements I witnessed in female S. speciosus, this was instead a very slow, almost sensual movement. It reminded me very much of human belly dancers, and how it was kind of figure eight type movement. She then started to rise up on her back legs so her head* was pointed down and towards the male and her abdomen was pointed right up in the air. Then she stuck both of her rear legs straight up in the air almost mirroring the male's posture, although he utilises the third leg pair not the back pair. After a short while she stopped doing that and returned to a disinterested state and looked around for a bit. The male continued displaying for a few more moments and then gave up and went away.
 Unlike S. speciosus, I witnessed a couple of bouts of aggression with M. pavonis. The first was a failed courtship display that ended with the female charging the male (see -2 above) although he escaped unharmed. I believe this is reasonably common with Maratus and why males seem to turn tail and run the instant they stop displaying to a female. After all, if females aren't interested in mating they might just be interested in feeding instead! The second was between two males. Generally the males seem to have no problem with each other, freely moving around and sometimes crossing paths quite close. I even saw one pair who alternated leap-frogging each other for about three jumps each. But I saw another pair face off with one landing reasonably close to the other. They stared eye-to-eye for a moment and then one did a leg wave and the other instantly attacked him. They tumbled down the other side of a leaf so I didn't see if either were injured. The lesson seems to be that males will tolerate each other but don't go posturing otherwise you're asking for a fight! Earlier on I had seen a male that only had seven legs and was missing one of his signalling legs. I wondered if was a result of a fight with another male.
 Finally, as with S. speciosus, the males seem to do all the travelling while the females generally sit about. I got the the feeling that the females might not be particularly interested in the males as there was more than one occasion when a bunch of males would kind of "move through" an area and then after they were gone, I would spot one or females emerge from hiding places in the leaf litter and climb up on twigs and such. I also saw females actively hunting and feeding on little mosquito/fly things on three occasions, whereas I didn't with the males.
On a side note, I also saw a big beautiful ground wasp (maybe a type of Sphecidae wasp, I'm not sure, I'm not very good with wasps) while I watching the spiders. He was fuzzy and had a big abdomen with two huge red spots on it. Any help steering me towards an ID would be great, he wouldn't let me take his photo. He would trundle all about the place through the leaf litter. I don't know what he was looking for but I hoped he wasn't in the business of parasitizing Peacock Jumping Spiders! When he would go past, any M. pavonis would stop and watch him from their respective vantage points.
* Yes, I know there's a proper name for a spider's "head" but I can't be bothered. =P