Happy Golden Anniversary to Rod Crawford at the Burke Museum!

Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum
July 27, 2021 | Melissa Frey

In August 1971, Rod Crawford experienced a chance encounter that would shape both his life and that of the Burke Museum for the next 50 years. Rod, who just completed his freshman year at the University of Washington (UW), spent the entire summer reading the spider literature in the Old Stacks at the UW library. 

One day, he reached for a volume of ‘Die Groß-Schmetterlinge der Erde’ at the exact time that Jon Pelham, a Burke Museum affiliate, was searching for the same title. Upon discovering their shared interests, Jon suggested that Rod visit the Burke Museum, where Jon was working on the butterfly collection, but where no one had touched the spiders for years. 

The next day, Rod wandered into the Burke Museum, located the Zoology division, and after a few inquiries, was introduced to Dr. Melville Hatch, Curator of Entomology. Professor Hatch recognized that Rod’s interest in spiders held great research promise, and assigned Rod a desk at the museum.

Over the next 50 years, Rod dedicated his career to research, collections, and outreach at the Burke Museum. As a Curatorial Associate, he has built the most diverse and extensive arachnid collection (along with other invertebrates) in the Pacific Northwest. From caves to alpine, he has sampled extensively in Washington—including five years of post-eruption field work on Mount St. Helens—as well as in adjacent areas of the Pacific Northwest and in the Russian Far East. In Washington alone, Rod has collected from more than 3,000 locales. 

Through steadfast, long-term research, he has significantly improved the understanding of spider diversity and distributions in Washington state, adding more than 600 species to the state’s checklist (currently at 965 species and counting!). 

Unsurprisingly, his contributions extend well beyond the Burke Museum. Over time, the Burke’s very own ‘Spider Man’ has become somewhat of a local celebrity for sharing his knowledge and passion with the community. His work has been featured in numerous media publications. Rod has published more than 80 scientific papers, written more than 50 popular articles, and participated in countless outreach events. In addition, Rod serves as the long-term editor of the ‘Scarabogram,’ the newsletter of Scarabs, the local bug society. 

For more on Rod Crawford’s work, visit his website.