Spiders in the Grampians

Did you see the articles in the Age and on ABC on new spider finds in the Grampians? With the exquisite photos by our ranger Dave Handscombe? Here’s part of The Age article…

Peacock spiders, which are only a few millimetres long, have captured the public imagination recently due to their colour and ceremony.
And thanks to a recent discovery, Victorian spider enthusiasts no longer have to go far to find them.

Five species have been discovered in the Grampians, one of which had never been observed in Victoria and one that had never been observed outside Tasmania, making the find quite a coup.

“These spiders, they’ve got to put on a really good display – because if they are not happy with it, the females will go and eat them,” says Grampians park ranger Dave Handscombe, who found the species in October.

Mr Handscombe has worked as a ranger for more than 30 years, “and I’m looking forward to retirement”, he says.

Mr Handscombe decided to see if he could find one in his ranges. He and two friends picked a few likely spots in the Grampians National Park – places where the vegetation wasn’t too thick and where there had been no recent bushfires – and went spider hunting.

“What you’ve got to do, is really concentrate on the ground,” he says. “The trick is moving your foot and trying to detect any movement on the ground. And because they are jumping spiders, they tend to jump out of the way of your boot.”

Only a single species of Maratus had ever been spotted in the Grampians, Mr Handscombe says. But as soon as his team started looking, they found dozens of the creatures. “They are not rare, but they are tiny – three to five millimetres in size – and so most people don’t notice them. You can find them pretty well anywhere in the Grampians.”

Other than boot-detecting, the best way to find Maratus is to look for long strands of web attached to plants. The spider is a bungee-jump hunter; it uses silk to attach a safety line to a tree before leaping at moving prey, catching unlucky victims mid-air.

Mr Handscombe advises anyone hoping to see the spider to head to the Grampians between September and December, when the spiders moult and the males reveal their colourful plumages.