The peacock spider
Intricate beauty on a tiny scale
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Most people would see the majestic colours and exquisite design of a peacock’s tail feathers as far removed from the ‘horrible, hairy, creeping thing’ image often associated with spiders. But the Maratus genus of jumping spiders, commonly referred to as Peacock Spiders and native to Australia, may forever alter your perception of these maligned arachnids.
Prepare to stand amazed
The Peacock Spider’s abdomen is covered by a dense layer of intricately designed scales, similar to those on some butterflies,1 with two flaps that fold down the sides. The bright reds and yellows are produced by pigments, but the iridescent blue is a structural colour, caused by interference from the tiny patterns of the scales. Thus the colour of the scales changes depending on the relative position of the observer and the direction of incident light. One look at the image in this article, or the videos of the species on the internet,2 will quickly justify the name.
When a male begins courting a female, the abdomen is raised up and the folded flaps unfurl, displaying vibrant hues and patterns unique to each species (43 identified thus far). This striking spectacle is only the start of the courtship ritual. The spider begins vibrating its abdomen, and raising the third set of legs (the longest and also used for jumping). It ‘dances’ with a series of masterly manoeuvres, sometimes smooth, sometimes staccato in nature, to attract the attention of the targeted female. All this from males just 3.8 to 6 mm (0.15 to 0.24 in)3 long. Such intricate design and beauty in such a tiny package!
What’s the reason?
Consistent evolutionists will not allow the concept of added beauty or ‘beauty for beauty’s sake’4. They suggest instead that such aesthetic features arose because they provided an advantage in sexual selection. The peacock’s tail has long been supposedly the classic example of this: if a particular feature is present in the male of a species, and the female prefers it, then the genes for that feature will be more likely to get into the next generation. If a slightly longer tail is an advantage in the courtship race, then it will get to predominate, as will the genes determining the preference for this trait. If a still longer one is even more attractive, then successive, heritable, increases in length may occur over many generations.
Like natural selection, some sexual selection undoubtedly occurs. However, it does not follow that everything attributed to it actually arose that way. It is too easy to pretend that such a simple mechanism can explain stunning designs like the peacock’s tail, and so it comes as no surprise to find that this classic story of sexual selection now appears to have been scientifically debunked.5
Despite evolutionary hand-waving, it has always been difficult to explain how the foundations of such an arrangement of features, whether in the peacock or the eponymous spider, arose by chance in the first place.4 In addition, such eye-catching patterns would presumably be selected against because of the ‘reverse camouflage’ they provide their owner, making it easier for predators to spot them.
In God’s Word, we find that “all things were created through him for him” (Colossians 1:16), “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and that “ … His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).
We should expect that God’s design of His creation would surpass mere fit and function and include elements with added beauty that confirm these words. As Professor Stuart Burgess so wonderfully put it:
… it is the Creator’s prerogative to design a cue that is vastly more complicated than what is required. One could argue that the courtship ritual is an appropriate place to install great beauty because courtship is a beautiful process in itself.4
And despite the aversion we might have for spiders in general, that holds as true for the Peacock Spider as for the bird it is named after.
References and notes
- E.g. the blue morpho (Morpho menelaus) or the blue don (Pailio ulysses); see Sarfati, J., Beautiful black and blue butterflies, J. Creation 19(1):9–10, 2005; creation.com/blue. Return to text.
- Peacock Spider 7 (Maratus speciosus), youtube.com, 1 March 2013. Return to text.
- Otto, J.C., and Hill, D.E., An illustrated review of the known peacock spiders of the genus Maratus from Australia, with description of a new species (Araneae: Salticidae: Euophryinae), Peckhamia 96(1):1–27, 1 December 2011; peckhamia.com. Return to text.
- Burgess, S., The beauty of the peacock tail and the problems with the theory of sexual selection, J. Creation 15(2):94–102, 2001;creation.com/peacock. See also Wieland, C., Let beauty be the judge, Creation 31(4):36–37, 2009; creation.com/hahn. Return to text.
- See Catchpoole, D., Peacock tail tale failure, 6 July 2008; creation.com/tale. Return to text.