The peacock spider

©alamy.com/AdamFletcherPeacock-spider

Intricate beauty on a tiny scale

by

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

  1. 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.
  2. Peacock Spider 7 (Maratus speciosus), youtube.com, 1 March 2013. Return to text.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. See Catchpoole, D., Peacock tail tale failure, 6 July 2008; creation.com/tale. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Bill P.
The Lord God had mercy on me some 40 yrs. ago. Since that time I have looked at the heavens and the earth from the point of view of The Creator. All I can say is that The Lord God of Israel is an Artist beyond compare. I know in my heart what He has revealed of Himself in His creation only begins to scratch the surface of His Power and Glory. I also somehow know that it will take eternity to learn His Ways, which is something I'm looking forward to. May The lord be magnified forever.
WR B.
That suggests “love of beauty” is part of God's "invisible nature”. His “eternal power and divine nature”, and isn't strictly “in the eye of the beholder”, and is part of the structure he created into the world.
Kathy K.
I don’t know if all birds, fish, animals or insects have mating rituals, but God said “be fruitful and multiply” to all his creations after their kinds. He loves family, he has a Son. To attract a mate in a special way, a beautiful way, would be just like the Creator God who loves his creations. It’s no surprise, but it’s always wonderful when it’s brought to our attention like these great articles put out by CMI!

Since we’re in God’s image, we were told to be fruitful and multiply and God puts emphasis on “family”. Just think of what we humans go through to attract a mate! It’s amazing that people deny a Creator and don’t want that beautiful relationship with Him. Life is so much easier to explain, to see truth, to get through troubles and rough times, to understand diseases and disabilities, let alone understanding an eternal home with an eternal God.

These discoveries are simply God’s gifts to man’s curiosity and his revelations to his inexhaustible creations.
Themba M.
Thank you Kathy K for connecting the dots so beautifully yourself. I was just appreciating the beauty in God's creation as pointed out in this article only to have you cut in from another angle. A month or so ago I came to a lightbulb realization that our God is a God of relationships. Everything else seems to be hinged on this basic point. What all of you guys have shared here confirms this beautiful truth all the more. God bless CMI ministry and all you beautiful fragrance of the Almighty scattered across the globe.

Themba, South Africa

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