Diversity of Fishes
Profile: Dr. Norman I. Platnick
Dr. Norman Platnick processes spiders
Dr. Norman Platnick processes spiders that he collected in southern Chile, 1986.

Dr. Norman I. Platnick is Curator of Arachnology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The AMNH houses the largest spider collection in the world, with over one million spider specimens. Dr. Platnick's research focuses on systematics, the scientific discipline dedicated to classifying organisms and working out their evolutionary relationships. This work involves distinguishing between different species of spiders and determining their evolutionary relationships.

Although Norm is now one of the foremost spider systematists in the world, he was not always interested in spiders. When he was growing up in West Virginia, there were always spiders around, but he was not particularly attracted to them -- though he wasn't repelled by them either. His interest in spiders began as a sophomore in college after he took a course on arthropods, the group that includes insects, spiders, and crustaceans. He was not excited by the course at first, but his interest in the subject grew when his future wife took the same course the next year and she became very interested in millipedes. As they lived near the Appalachian Mountains, where there is an abundance of large and colorful millipedes, the two of them collected millipedes together. Norm was completely unsuccessful at collecting millipedes - his collecting jars contained only spiders. Norm decided that he might as well try to identify those spiders. After identifying one, he decided spiders were more his style, and he was hooked.

Norm completed his undergraduate degree in biology at Concord College in Athens, West Virginia, then went on to earn his M.A. from Michigan State University and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1973. Since 1973, Norm has been a curator at the AMNH including a seven-year stint as Chairman of the Entomology Department. As well as being an adjunct professor at Cornell University and the City University of New York, Norm is Honorary Editor-in-Chief of Acta Arachnologica Sinica, and serves on the editorial boards for numerous scientific journals, including Cladistics, Biogeographica, Journal of Arachnology, Entomologica, Cimbebasia, Bulletin de l'Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Seacutrie Entomologie, Annales Zoologici, Memorias do Instituto Butantan, and Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins. He has also served as President of the Centre International de Documentation Arachnologique and the Willi Hennig Society, and is a Charter Member of the American Arachnological Society.