Entomologist and Curator of Arachnids and Myriapods

Entomologist Hannah Wood at night, wearing a headlamp, with a green chameleon on the arm of her checked shirt,
Spider biologist Hannah Wood with a chameleon she found in the field. Photo by Jeremy Miller, Museum Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden.

Hannah Wood grew up in Sky Forest, California, and spent her early years studying dance, reading novels, and taking outdoor hikes. As a kid, she liked spiders, but had no idea that she was going to become a biologist. The arts  and literature were what attracted her most. She had a passion for dancing, and she majored in English Literature in college at the University of California, Berkeley. However, she began to take an interest in the relationship of science to art. In living ecosystems, she saw patterns, and artistry, and beautiful landscapes. Hannah went on to earn a PhD in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at U.C. Berkeley. 

Hannah Wood came to the Smithsonian in 2015 to become a Curator of Arachnids (spiders, scorpions, etc.) and Myriapods (centipedes, millipedes, etc.). Her research looks at how spiders have diversified, particularly in their feeding behaviors. She focuses on what are called palpimanoid spiders, an ancient group of predator spiders characterized by their highly specialized adaptations for feeding. She coined the name "trap-jaw" for spiders in the family Mecysmaucheniidae, whose jaws snap shut on their prey at staggering speeds. Hannah has figured out how to use a combination of high-speed cameras and higher-tech synchrotron machine to take images of spider jaws in action. As a research scientist at the museum, Hannah more broadly focuses on how spiders have evolved and diversified.