Mao’s last dancer is now Queensland’s latest spider.

Queensland Museum scientist Dr Barbara Baehr has paid tribute to Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin by naming a new species of peacock spider in his honour.

A graduate of the Beijing Dance Academy who moved to Australia in 1995, Li Cunxin is best known for his 2003 autobiography, Mao’s Last Dancer, which was adapted into a critically acclaimed film in 2009. He retired from dancing in 1999, and was eventually named the artistic director of the Queensland Ballet in 2012.

His new namesake, Maratus licunxin, is less than four millimetres long, but boasts a brilliant blue streak — and some awesome dance moves.

Dr Baehr found the spider at Carnarvon Station, and says she was inspired to name the spider in honour of 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 fairytale-like essence that was so marvellous and sweet that it reminded me so much of the dancing of the peacock spiders,” she says.

Li Cunxin with Professor Barbara Baehr

Image: Li Cunxin with Dr Barbara Baehr. Supplied.

Li Cunxin says it’s an honour to have a dancing spider named after him.

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

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

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

Maratus Licunxin

Image: Maratus licunxin, the new species of spider named after Li Cunxin. Supplied.

Maratus licunxin is one of six new species of peacock spiders described by Baehr and Whyte in a new paper co-authored by Robert Whyte and published in the journal Zootaxa. The others are Maratus ottoi, Maratus eliasi and Maratus michaelorum from Queensland, and Maratus Kiwirrkurra and Maratus julianneae from Western Australia.

Queensland Museum CEO and director, Professor Suzanne Miller, says the peacock spider is just one of over 4,000 species that have been described by Queensland Museum scientists in the museum’s 154 year history, 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 says.

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

Professor Miller says a number of species described by Queensland Museum scientists will be featured in a new gallery at the museum, Wild State.

“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 says.

“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.”

Entry to the new Wild State Gallery will be free and will open in late September.

Which animal would you like to have named after you? Let us know in the comments below!