Arachnology & Entomology

Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

Arachnology & Entomology Collections

The Arachnology and Entomology Collection at the Burke Museum includes over 392,000 specimens of spiders, insects, and allied invertebrates, with collections of international, regional and historical importance. Geographic strengths are Washington state and far eastern Russia.

Safely preserved in vials, the Burke’s collection of over 170,000 spiders is the 2nd largest on the West Coast. There are also nearly 14,000 harvestmen, scorpions and other arachnids. All are available for study.

Our 37,000 mounted butterflies includes the largest collection anywhere of Washington specimens, good representation of North American species and some worldwide material. We have the only collection of cave invertebrates in the Pacific Northwest. Our collections of myriapods and isopod crustaceans are unique in this region. The 80,500 insect specimens collected in the devastated zone of Mt. St. Helens in the first 6 years following the 1980 eruptions are an irreplaceable resource for future research.

Collection Overview

The Burke Museum’s Arachnology and Entomology Collections hold over 392,000 invertebrate specimens (not limited to spiders and butterflies), featuring a world-class arachnology collection plus regionally important collections of Lepidoptera, Myriapoda, Isopoda, cave invertebrates, Oligochaeta and the first arthropod colonists of Mt. St. Helens following the 1980 eruption. All are available for study.

The spider collection makes up roughly 50% of the section's total holdings (over 170,000 specimens). Geographic strengths are Washington, Alaska and far eastern Russia, with some worldwide representation. Collections are curated, catalogued and available for study. New material is added almost daily.

2nd largest collection of spiders on the West Coast, largest collection of Washington spiders anywhere, largest collection of Russian spiders in North America

The butterfly and moth collections include over 37,000 specimens and are particularly strong in Washington material; but there is significant worldwide representation. Curation of currently unmounted material is in progress. The collection is available for study.

Best representation of Washington butterflies in any collection

(Including harvestmen and scorpions)

The arachnid collection includes over 13,500 specimens of non-spider orders. It is especially strong in harvestmen, with some worldwide representation. The harvestman collection is catalogued, available for study, and expanding.

From 1981-1987 the terrain sterilized by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens (and nearby control sites) was studied by a UW team under a large grant, monitoring arachnids and insects migrating in and, in some cases, colonizing the greatly altered habitats.

This material (at least 80,500 specimens) is finally a research-ready collection, after several years' work by diligent volunteers converting it from uncatalogued bulk storage.

(Including all groups that live in caves)

A representative collection of about 12,000 primarily Pacific Northwest cave invertebrates, especially arthropods. The collection is fully curated and available for study, but not yet catalogued.

6,500 curated centipedes and millipedes, mostly identified, mainly from the Pacific Northwest. Available for study but difficult to ship due to storage method.

The isopod crustacean collection includes about 12,000 specimens and is expanding. The collection's core is the Melville H. Hatch material used in "Isopoda of Washington." Material is predominantly from Washington. It is all curated and available for study, but not yet catalogued.

This is primarily the Luther C. Altman collection of 2,500 specimens used for "Oligochaeta of Washington," partly fluid-preserved but primarily slide-mounted as serial sections. Altman was a superb histologist and his slides are works of art. This collection has been in high demand by researchers in several countries.

The Charles H. Lavers, Jr. collection of about 2,500 North American aquatic mites, donated by his widow after Lavers' untimely death, was the basis of "The Species of Arrenurus of the State of Washington" but includes unstudied material. It is divided between slide-mounted and glycerin-preserved specimens. Uncatalogued, but available for study at least in part.

Our collection of 1,040 slide-mounted fleas primarily from the Pacific Northwest originated with a "synoptic" donation by C. Andresen Hubbard and has miscellaneous additions, including the former collection of Walla Walla College. Includes paratypes; available for study.

Our collection of this group of microscopic metazoans is entirely slide-mounted. The roughly 600 specimens were prepared by Eloise Kuntz for her thesis on "The Rotatoria of Washington." The collection will have significant historical importance to future researchers.

These near-microscopic soil hexapods (formerly considered insects) are all slide-mounted. The roughly 50 specimens were formerly deposited at Walla Walla College. Protura are so seldom seen that even this small collection may be of interest to future researchers.

a small spider sticks out from inside of a pinecone
Photo: Laurel Ramseyer
Photo: Laurel Ramseyer

Our Research

The "Spiders of Washington" project is our main, and longest-term, research effort. Burke Arachnology personnel regularly do field collecting all over Washington to enhance our knowledge of the spider species in the state, their geographic distribution, life cycles and environmental requirements.

Starting with a list of less than 300 species in 1971, we are up to 945 species and counting! Trying for equal geographic representation across Washington, we divide the state into 2195 0.1-degree areas and are trying to sample all of them; as of July 2019, 655 done, 1540 to go.

Other research in progress includes studies of a number of non-native spider species recently found in Washington and how their ranges are expanding, often at the expense of native species. A recently submitted paper describes two new cave millipede species from Oregon.

cartoon drawing of a spider holding back at a doorway with words "no, not outside! It's a jungle out there!"
Illustration: Owen Curtsinger
Illustration: Owen Curtsinger

Spider Myths

Nearly all of the widespread assumptions and “general knowledge” about spiders are false!

In Spider Myths, expert Rod Crawford tackles the most common myths he hears in an attempt to set the record straight about spiders.

Learn More

Additional Spider Resources

Questions & Answers

We’ve pulled together some common questions and answers related to the Burke Museum Arachnology & Entomology Collections. Do you have question that isn’t answered in the list below? Contact us.

Visits to the Arachnology and Entomology Collections may be arranged for qualified researchers, artists and scientific illustrators, and other members of the general public. For more information, contact us.

Specimens from the Arachnology and Entomology Collections are available on short-term loan for scholarly research on request to researchers with institutional affiliation. Loans to unaffiliated individuals are only made in exceptional circumstances, and loans are not made to artists or photographers.

For more information, contact us to explain your project, affiliation and what you would like to borrow.

We will attempt to identify single arachnid or insect specimens from the Pacific Northwest on request. Please note the following:

  • Be sure to state where on the planet your specimen was found! No ID is ever possible without geographic location, and our staff has little familiarity with fauna not from the Pacific Northwest.
  • Actual specimens are preferred. Photos can't always be identified; small, low resolution photos or verbal descriptions, rarely.
  • Any spider that bit someone must be examined directly, even if smashed. Don't throw it away!
  • We consider identifying single specimens a public service, but if you have large numbers of specimens, there may be a charge.

For questions about a specimen or to arrange identification of a spider or insect, contact us.


Specimens or collections of Arachnida, Myriapoda, Isopoda, or Lepidoptera can be donated, provided they meet staff research needs and have complete data. No material will be accepted that lacks detailed information on the geographic location where each specimen was collected. Other data such as collection date, habitat, and collector's name is very desirable.

Contact us if you are interested in donating anything with details of what is involved, as many other factors determine whether we can accept a given donation.

We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers! Visit our Volunteer page for more information about Burke Museum volunteer opportunities and to view current openings.

Our Team & Contact

Meet the people within the Burke Museum Arachnology & Entomology team.

Our Team

Have a general question?

Contact Us

Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

Additional Resources

We've compiled several online resources from outside of the Burke Museum that may also be of interest.

a man stands in the forest holding a bug catching net

Support Arachnology & Entomology

Your gift makes it possible! We couldn't do what we do without generous donor support for collections care, research and public outreach. 

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum