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Arachnids and Arachnology

A guide to library resources and other information sources regarding arachnids and the history of their study.


Theraphosa blondiArachnids are a group of invertebrate animals in the phylum Arthropoda. They are identified by some generally shared common features, including eight legs, two body components, special appendages called pedipalps, and respiration by means of book lungs and/or tracheae. Unlike insects, they do not have wings or antennae.

This guide describes information sources for learning about these animals, including both physical and electronic resources, as well as some classic works at the BPL by great arachnologists of the past.

The Research Services page includes locations, hours, and contact information for obtaining assistance with research and the use of the Boston Public Library's collections. 

At right is a female Theraphosa blondi or goliath birdeater spider, the largest species of spider in the world by mass (175 g  or 6.2 oz).

Arachnology Classics at the BPL


Over the course of its long history the Boston Public Library has collected many works by some of history's most eminent arachnologists and naturalists.

Though some of the scientific conclusions (and especially the classificatory arrangements) in these works may have long since been corrected and superseded, these works are valuable for the insight they give into the field's historical development and as a testament to the efforts of their authors. Many also contain superb examples of natural history illustration from before the days of photography.

These country tabs describe just a few of these great naturalists of the past whose works are available at the BPL. Needless to say, with few exceptions all of these books must be requested from the Delivery Desk and may not be checked out, but fortunately many of them have also been digitized.

At right is a page of Amblypygi from volume XV of Carl Wilhelm Hahn and Carl Ludwig Koch's 16-volume Die Arachniden, published from 1831-1848 and described in the Germany tab.


Nicholas Marcellus Hentz (1797-1856)

Born in France, Hentz and his family came to the United States in 1816. He worked as a French teacher in addition to pursuing the study of natural history, and his descriptions of 141 species of spiders "provided the foundation upon which knowledge of North American spiders is based."(1) He was also a friend and correspondent of Thomas Say (above).

Before moving south and west Hentz lived in Massachusetts, and many of his descriptions were published in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History. He also sold his collection to the Society in the 1840s. 

The BPL holds a copy of Spiders of the United States, a collection of Hentz's writings posthumously published by the Society with notes by Emerton (below). The book has also been digitized and is available on the Internet Archive

1. Cooke, J. (1996). A pioneering spider man. Natural History105(7), 74.

James Henry Emerton (1847-1931)

A Salem native, Emerton lived part of his life in Boston and was a member of the Boston Society of Natural History. In addition to his arachnological work, Emerton was a skilled natural history illustrator, contributing illustrations to works on botany and butterflies, as well as producing illustrations for the Peckhams (below). The BPL has his Common Spiders of the United States (which has also been digitized), in which Emerton accompanied his illustrations with photographs of distinctive web types. 

Elizabeth and George Peckham (1854-1940 and 1845-1914)

The Peckhams were a wife and husband arachnological team whose research focused primarily on the Salticidae, or jumping spiders. They used close studies of courtship behavior in these spiders as a means to test evolutionary concepts developed by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.

Among their works at the BPL are copies of their Observations and Additional Observations on Sexual Selection in Spiders of the Family Attidae, as well as Elizabeth Peckham's paper on spider camouflage and mimicry

The Peckham Society, a group of Salticid enthusiasts and researchers, named itself and its journal Peckhamia in their honor. 

Robert Hooke (1685-1703)

Not an arachnologist per se, Hooke is nevertheless important for his contributions to microscopy, which included investigations of a harvestman (below left), a mite, and a pseudoscorpion (both below right, alongside a silverfish). These are taken from the digitized version of the BPL's 1665 copy of Micrographia, held by the Rare Books Department.



John Blackwall (1790-1881)

Blackwall's two-volume History of the Spiders of Great Britain and Ireland was published 1861-1864 by the Ray Society.

It includes amazing plates, including full-color illustrations of whole spiders among which are interspersed detailed line drawings of diagnostic pedipalps and other anatomical features. A copy of the book from Harvard has been digitized. Below are some examples of plates scanned from the BPL's copy (in the original each plate is accompanied by a facing explanatory key):

The Reverend Octavius Pickard-Cambridge (1828-1917)

A resident of Dorset and a correspondent and collaborator with Blackwall, the excellently named Pickard-Cambridge produced The Spiders of Dorset and contributed a volume on the 'Araneidea' to the British Museum's monumental biodiversity encyclopedia, the Biologia-Centrali Americana. The BPL holds his volume, as well as the volume on the 'Araneidea and Opiliones' contributed by his son, Frederick Octavius Pickard-Cambridge. Below are some plates from the elder Pickard-Cambridge's volume; the entire encyclopedia has been digitized and is available online through the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Pierre André Latreille (1762-1833)

Latreille was a prominent zoologist and arthropod specialist who authored the volume on arthropods for Cuvier's Le Règne Animal and was allegedly rescued from imprisonment and probable execution during the French Revolution thanks to his skill in insect identification.

The BPL has his Histoire naturelle des fourmis : et recueil de mémoires et d'observations sur les abeilles, les araignées, les faucheurs, et autres insects (1802) and his Entomologie, Ou Histoire Naturelle Des Crustacés, Des Arachnides Et Des Insectes (1819), which, though covering arthropods more generally, both include sections devoted to the arachnids.

Eugene Simon (1848-1924)

France's greatest arachnologist past or present, Simon also holds the distinction of having named more spider species than any naturalist of any nation before or since.

The BPL has his report on arachnids from the 1882-1883 French scientific mission to Cape Horn, Chile (also digitized here), as well as a version of his 1864 Histoire naturelle des araignées (aranéides) (also digitized here). In this latter work Simon eschewed fancy color plates in favor of detailed drawings of eye arrangements, pedipalps, and web styles used for descriptive and identification purposes. 

Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915)

Though known primarily for his work on insects, Fabre also devoted some attention to spiders and scorpions.

In an age when the scientific study of nature consisted largely of the description and classification of (probably dead) specimens, Fabre devoted himself to studying living invertebrates and devising experiments to test their behavioral capabilities and limitations.

This focus on live animals, combined with his conversational writing style, also makes his work more accessible and engaging than the dry descriptions that make up much the of the work of other naturalists from this period.

The BPL has copies of English translations of Fabre's Life of the Spider and Life of the Scorpion, versions of which have also been digitized and are available through the Internet Archive

Pierre Bonnet (1897-1990)

Sure to be the favorite arachnologist of librarians everywhere, Bonnet is the creator of the monumental Bibliographia Araneorum (1945-1961), a comprehensive listing and analysis of virtually all arachnological publications up to 1939.

Savory, in Spiders, Men, and Scorpions, makes note "of [Bonnet's] difficulties with unfamiliar languages, unresponsive curators and ill-organised libraries and of the dangers which his manuscript survived when Toulouse was occupied by the Germans and bombed by the R.A.F."

He goes on to praise the work as "a triumph of perseverance, strengthened by a faith in the value of the task which raised an unusual enthusiasm to an almost fantastic devotion" (p. 178).

Both Bonnet and Simon (above) have awards named after them, given by the International Society of Arachnology.

Carl Wilhelm Hahn (1786-1835) and Carl Ludwig Koch (1778-1857)

In 1831 Carl Wilhelm Hahn, already the author of a now extremely rare monograph on spiders, published the first volume of Die Arachniden. After Hahn's death, his project was taken over by Carl Ludwig Koch (right), and the entire series would ultimately comprise sixteen volumes.

The BPL's set is mysteriously missing volume 13, but the extant volumes have been digitized. Even if one cannot read German, the plentiful and attractive color plates make it well worth perusal. 

Below are some examples of plates from this set, including some mites from volume I, some harvestmen from volume 2, and a camel spider from volume 3.

Carl Ludwig Koch's son, somewhat confusingly named Ludwig Carl Christian Koch, also became a distinguished arachnologist in his own right. The similarity of the father and son's names even confused the BPL's catalogers, who cataloged at least two of the younger Koch's works, on the arachnids of Australia and Siberia, under the elder Koch's name.









Most of the BPL's books (and virtually all of its circulating books) for adults about arachnids concern spiders. These are some highlights from the BPL's collections.

General Books

Hunting Methods

Webs and Silk

Spiders and Humans

All the BPL's books for adults on arachnids other than spiders are, alas, non-circulating, but remember that you can always attempt to request circulating copies of books through the Commonwealth Catalog

The BPL's books on the other orders are limited to somewhat eccentric assortments of technical scientific publications, such as various accounts of mite families and treatises on the Opiliones of Michigan, and indeed it seems that for many of the orders, accessible works for general adult readers are simply not in existence. Worth mentioning also are the books by Piotr Naskrecki of Harvard, which, though mostly about animals other than arachnids, include some of the most spectacular photography of arthropods that you are likely to find anywhere.

Regional Guides

As is the case with the general books, virtually all of the arachnid field guides cover spiders only, but there are some really excellent options in the BPL's collection. Several of these guides are held at the Delivery Desk, but all can be checked out.

Electronic Resources

Journal of ArachnologyJournal of Arachnology

The BPL offers electronic access to the complete run of what is probably the premier U.S. arachnological journal, the Journal of Arachnology, published by the American Arachnological Society. This is an excellent resource for learning about new species discoveries, up-to-date research, and the often bizarre minutiae of arachnid behavior, as well as for general overviews of broader topics.

BPL-provided access is divided between two subscription databases: content from the journal's inception in 1973 to two years ago is available in JSTOR, and content from 2005 to the present (with minimal delay) is available through Gale Academic OneFile. Both databases are remotely accessible using a valid BPL card or eCard number and PIN.

Although most of the content of this journal is also generously made freely available online by the society itself, there are three reasons that BPL users may wish to use the access provided through the BPL's database subscriptions:

  1. The portion of access provided through Academic OneFile includes access to some recent issues that are still accessible only to society members on their website.
  2. The quality of image reproduction in the earlier issues of the journal is better in the content available through JSTOR than in the scans available through the society's website.
  3. The search interfaces in these databases allow for more complex searches than can be performed on the society's website.

Other BPL Journals

There is content from a variety of other journals accessible through the BPL's subscription databases which, while not specifically devoted to arachnology, will contain some content about arachnids. These will include journals relating to invertebrates more generally, such as Invertebrate Biology, as well as journals devoted to our region, like Northeastern Naturalist. Articles on arachnids will also on occasion appear in general zoology journals, lists of which may be found in the 'Health & Biological Sciences' category of the 'Browse journals by subject' portion of the 'e-Journals By Title' page. Articles on arachnids can also be searched for at the database level; some recommendations for doing so may be found in the next tab in this box, 'Searching for Articles.'

Open Access Journals

Some journals make their content freely available online, with no subscription required, such as the German and English publication Arachnology Letters (also indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals) and the continent-specific African Invertebrates. Large open access general scientific journals such as PLOS ONE and Scientific Reports will also publish arachnological articles from time to time. 

Searching at the Database Level

Although the journals listed in the previous section can be searched individually, it can also be useful to search within databases as a whole to find content in multiple journals simultaneously. 

Using Scientific Names

Standard practice in titling of arachnological articles is to include parenthetical statements including scientific names at the class, order, and/or family level to specify the group being discussed, so in some cases it may be useful to search using the scientific name for the highest taxonomic level in which one is interested. This has a couple of advantages:

  1. Scientific names are standardized (at least in theory) and so are likely to be more universally applied even when authors use differing common names.
  2. Some articles don't use common names in their titles at all. This limitation can usually be circumvented by full-text searching, but if searching by article title it is probably better to search using the scientific name in case a common name doesn't appear. Here's an example of an article where this is the case:

Slagsvold, T. (1979). Environment and Morphological Variation of Mitopus morio (Fabr.) (Opiliones) in Norway. Journal of Biogeography 6 (3), 267-276.

A title search using only, for example, the common name 'harvestmen' would fail to retrieve this article (which may be found in JSTOR) despite it being a potentially relevant result regarding Opiliones like the one pictured at right.

Using Subject Terms

Many of the BPL's subscription databases have their own set of subject terms, often very similar to Library of Congress Subject Headings, that are used to describe the content of articles. These can either be browsed directly or selected from within the record for a given article to find other articles that have received the same subject terms. In JSTOR these terms, called 'Topics,' can be selected from individual entries only after performing a search. Subject terms in these databases relating to arachnids, where available, tend to use common names and will be less specific than scientific names, but may be useful for identifying articles on specific subtopics like 'Behavior' or 'Physiological aspects.'

While there is less available than for insects, for example, there is some material on arachnids available through some of the BPL's subscription reference collections.

Good review articles on the class as a whole and some of the orders are available in Britannica Library, and Gale Virtual Reference includes the multi-volume Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, which includes an article reviewing the arachnids generally and describing representative members from each of the arachnid orders.

Finally, Credo Reference includes the Encyclopedia of Insects, which includes articles on arachnid orders despite the fact that they aren't technically insects, as well as the Encyclopedia of Paleontology, which includes a great entry on fossil Chelicerates (the taxonomic group that includes the arachnids and horseshoe crabs). 

Identification and General Information



With well over 5,000 described species, the Salticidae, or jumping spiders, are the most diverse of the ~110 families of spiders, and they have a correspondingly strong online presence in the form of a range of excellent websites devoted to their study. 

In addition to the digitized versions of the classic books described above, many more great works of arachnology that are out of copyright may be found in digitized form on sites like the Internet Archive, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and HathiTrust.

While all the caveats regarding age and accuracy apply, there are some great titles to be had, from Martin Lister's 1678 Latin tract on spiders to this nice 1793 volume collecting two works by Albin and Clerck, and up to Comstock's Spider Book of 1912 and Gertsch's American Spiders from 1949. 

Searching the Catalog

The BPL catalog can be searched using several different fields.

  • The Keyword field allows for a broad search and will return the most results. It will find your terms virtually anywhere in a title's record and will weight your results based on where and how frequently your terms occur.
  • The Title and Author fields can be used if you have a specific book or writer in mind. 
  • The Subject field searches Library of Congress Subject Headings. Please see the next tab for more information about searching by subject.

In addition, the  Advanced Search can be used to search multiple fields simultaneously, exclude terms from a field, and search additional fields not available in basic search, such as PublisherSeries, and Identifier (e.g. ISBN/UPC).

Searching the catalog using the Subject field will search the Library of Congress Subject Headings used to classify and describe the content of our materials.

All the subject headings applied to a given title will be listed on the right in a title's record, and can be clicked on to retrieve a list of all other titles bearing that heading.

The headings are nested, so any subheadings separated by -- can be removed to perform a broader search and retrieve more results.

You can limit your search results by LocationFormat, AudienceTitles You Can Borrow and Take Home, Language, Topic, etc. by using the clickable headings and dropdown menus on the left side of the search results page.

In addition, the Advanced Search can be used to set up limiting factors prior to conducting your search.

To locate copies of a title in a list of search results, click the in some locations or Availability details link under the call number. This will open a window listing the library's copies of a given edition of a work, and will provide you with the four critical pieces of information you need to locate a copy:

  • The Location tells you which library locations hold copies of a book.
  • The Collection tells you the general area where a copy is shelved at its location.
  • The Call Number tells you where to find a copy on the shelves of the collection.
  • The Status tells you whether a given copy should be on the shelf. 

The Map of the Central Library is useful for locating collections at the Central Library. Please note that items in the Central Nonfiction collection with call numbers H through HJ are located in the Kirstein Business Library and Innovation Center on the Lower Level of the Johnson building, and Central items whose collection is listed as Nonfiction - New Shelf are located in the New & Novel area on the first floor of the Johnson building. 

Books with the location BPL-Delivery Desk are held in closed shelves at the Central Library. Most of these books are for in-library use only, but many can be checked out and taken home, especially if they have been published recently. Delivery Desk books whose Collection information does not include the phrase In-Library Use Only can be requested and checked out for the standard loan period just like other circulating books.

If you're at the Central library, these books can be obtained by filling out a request form at the Delivery Desk, located in the Northwest Corridor on the second floor of the McKim Building. Be sure to bring the title, author, call number, and your library card. If the book can be taken home, staff will check the book out to you upon retrieval.

In the unlikely event that the main catalog is not working, you may also search the library's holdings using the alternate catalog.

The alternate catalog also allows you to browse subject headings, which cannot be done using the main catalog. 

Also keep in mind that not all items added to the BPL's collections prior to the mid-1970s appear in the online catalogs. A complete reckoning of the BPL's older materials requires consultation of the microfiche catalog. Ask a librarian for more information about accessing and using this catalog.