Dancing spider named for dancing icon

11 July 2016

Queensland Museum Network Director Professor Suzanne Miller with Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin Queensland Museum Network Director Professor Suzanne Miller with Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin

Queensland Museum scientist, Dr Barbara Baehr has paid tribute to one of the world’s most iconic dancers, Li Cunxin, by naming a new species of peacock spider in his honour.

Despite having a brilliant blue streak, Maratus licunxin is hard to spot at less than 4 millimetres long, but get close enough and you will be awed by his dance moves and spectacular body.

Queensland Museum CEO and Director Professor Suzanne Miller said the peacock spider was just one of over 4000 species described by Queensland Museum scientists, including over 600 spiders described by Dr Baehr.

“Each and every day our scientists are describing new and exciting species that are found around the country,” she said.

“From tiny peacock spiders like Maratus licunxin to dinosaurs such as the iconic Muttaburrasaurus, I am continually amazed by the work they are doing.”

The amazing little spider is one of more than 200 new spider species discovered as part of Australia’s largest species discovery program Bush Blitz, a partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia. The Program has discovered over 1,100 new species since 2010 including spiders, moths, true bugs and even plants.

Dr Baehr found the spider at Carnarvon Station and said she was inspired to name the spider in honour of Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin after a visit to the ballet with her daughter.

“As I sat and watched Queensland Ballet’s latest performance, I thought it was stunning, with a fairy-tale like essence that was so marvellous and sweet that it reminded me so much of the dancing of the peacock spiders,” she said.

“It was then I decided I should name the spider after Li Cunxin famous for his autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer,  and his magnificent dancing skills, much like that of the peacock spider.”

Known for their colourful abdomen, these stunning jumping spiders, which are endemic to Australia, have become an internet sensation over the past five years due to their intricate mating ritual which involves vigorous leg waving.

Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin said he was honoured to have a dancing spider named after him. 

“This beautiful dancing Queensland spider is in good company alongside the Queensland Ballet dancers,” he said.

“After watching its elaborate dance, I can see why Dr Baehr was inspired by the graceful dancers in our Company,” he said.

“It is certainly heart-warming to know that our dancers can provide such inspiration to an individual and speaks volumes about the power of this beautiful art form.”

Professor Miller said a number of species that had been described by Queensland Museum scientists in its 154 year history would be featured in a new gallery at the museum.

“It is fitting today to announce we will be opening Queensland Museum’s newest gallery Wild State, in late September, which is presented by our exclusive biodiversity partner BHP Billiton,” she said.

“Wild State will take visitors on a journey through Queensland’s five breathtaking habitats from the arid outback to the coast, including bushland, rainforests and the ocean.”

“This is just one of three exciting new projects we are working on with BHP Billiton to highlight the diversity and fragile balance of Queensland’s unique flora and fauna, including a suite of biodiversity themed loans kits and the Queensland Museum Natural Leaders program.”

The scientific paper describing Maratus licunxin, published in the journal ‘Zootaxa’, was co-authored by Robert Whyte.

Maratus licunxin was one of six new species of peacock spiders described by Baehr and Whyte in this paper including Maratus eliasi, Maratus michaelorum, Maratus ottoi all discovered in Queensland, and Maratus kiwirrkurra and Maratus julianneae from Western Australia.

Entry to the new Wild State gallery will be free and will open in late September and is presented by our exclusive biodiversity partner BHP Billiton.