History of Arachnology

History of Arachnology: How Spiders Became More Than Just Insects

The history of arachnology and how it evolved over the centuries is a fascinating read in itself. Learn the path that spiders took from being just another insect to a separate class: the arachnids.

The scientific study of spiders, as with so much of zoology, is considered to have started with Aristotle (385-322) BC.

However, as he incorrectly contradicts Democritus’ claim that spiders produce the silk from within their body as a “superfluity or excretion” it might be more honest to give Democritus the title of the father of Arachnology.

History of Arachnology

In his Historia Animalia he included spiders with the insects, he divided them according to whether or not they spun webs and then on the basis of the types of webs they spun.

He also reported on their web-building techniques and reproduction.

Not everything Aristotle recorded was correct, however, it was to be more than 1,800 years before anybody else wrote anything intelligent about spider biology.

The first people to write some fresh observations on spiders, rather than just repeating the errors that had been handed down from translations of Pliny (Ancient Rome) and Aristotle, were zoologists like Robert Hooke, Martin Lister, Antonie van Leeuwhenhoek, John Ray, and Jan Swammerdam. All of them were born between 1600 and 1700.

History of Arachnology

Carolus Linnaeus is normally considered to be the father of the binomial (two names) system we still use to name animals.

However, we now know that Svenska Spindlar (Swedish Spiders) published in 1756 by Carl Clerck was actually the first zoological work to use a binomial naming system.

He described 68 spiders, whereas Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae 10th Ed. published the following year described only 37 species.

Hence spiders, as far as I know, are the only group of animals to have their classification predate Linnaeus’ great work.

History of Arachnology

The first ever Professor of Entomology, the Frenchman Pierre Latreille (1762-1833) was the first to give spiders a number of genera within their own family, but they were still considered as insects.

It was left to the German Carl Ludwig Koch to give the spiders the writing to be a class in their own name and so the Arachnida came into existence in the middle of the 19th century.

Following him we find names like Blackwall, Hahn, Keyserling, and Koch developing the methods of classification, taking more notice of the smaller species and using characteristics such as the number and arrangement of the eyes and the shape of the male palpal organ. History of Arachnology

From this time on the number of names of scientists who did great work on spiders started to increase considerably and now there are thousands of books on spiders around the world.

Many of these books will be hidden in the back rooms of your library, these old books are often fascinating reading so why not ask your librarian to dig some of them out for you!

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Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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