Unweaving the peacock spider’s rainbows


Peacock spiders use sophisticated optical nanostructures to produce a dazzling mating display.


The peacock spider Maratus robinsoni.
The peacock spider Maratus robinsoni.
Jurgen Otto

Brightly colored Australian peacock spiders (Maratus spp.) captivate even the most arachnophobic viewers with their flamboyant courtship displays featuring diverse and intricate body colorations, patterns, and movements - all packed into miniature bodies measuring less than 5 mm in size.

One species of peacock spider - the rainbow peacock spider (Maratus robinsoni) - is particularly impressive, because it showcases an intense rainbow iridescent signal in males' courtship displays to the females.

The intense rainbow iridescence emerges from specialized abdominal scales on the spiders. These scales combine an airfoil-like microscopic 3D contour with nanoscale diffraction grating structures on the surface. The interaction between the surface nano-diffraction grating and the microscopic curvature of the scales enables separation and isolation of light into its component wavelengths at finer angles and smaller distances than humans can manage with current engineering technologies.

Researchers hope the spider’s tiny lightshow will inspire developments in optics.

Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02451-x
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