Books of Interest

Books of Interest

Snakes of the World: A Catalogue of Living and Extinct Species. 2014. Van Wallach, Kenneth L. Williams, Jeff Boundy. CRC Press, Boca Rattan, FL. 1237 pp.
This volume will be required reading for anyone seriously interested in snake systematics and diversity. It contains a checklist to all living and fossil snakes described between 1758 and 2012. These number 3,509 living and 274 extinct species allocated to 539 living and 112 extinct genera. Also included are 54 genera and 302 species that are dubious or invalid. Thus, book in recognizes 705 genera and 4,085 species.
The checklist is organized by genera with species alphabetically organized for ease of reference. The species accounts include: data on type specimens and type localities; a lists all subspecies, synonyms and proposed names; distribution of species by country and province, and geological time spans for fossil species; a complete summary of the systematic snake literature. It also provides a list of references for each country. The literature cited covers more than 200 pages.

In 2013 there were an additional 22 species of snakes described, and at least four new species have already been described in 2014. There have also been some major changes in higher level systematics within the past two years. Despite these updates, this is a indispensable volume for anyone working on snakes.

Dodd, C. K. 2013. Frogs of the United States and Canada, John Hopkins University Press, Two vol. set, hardcover, 982 pp.

Frogs and toads are charismatic creatures frequently used to draw attention to the plight of the environment. Anurans, as well as other amphibians, are often considered the canary in the coal mine for signalling problems with environmental quality. Adults are small predators and larvae are usually aquatic filter feeders giving an individual anuran plenty of opportunities to intake environmental toxins and be impacted by dry, wet, cold, or heat.

The popular press is filled with stories  regarding frog population declines and developmental malformations in frogs and creates a social awareness that makes frog celebrities. The increased awareness creates a demand for readily accessible information.

In this recently released two volume set, Ken Dodd has summarized nomenclature, geography, and biology of 106 North American anurans with clarity and detail. And, he has included species accounts for another six non-native anurans which have become invasive in North America.

The photography, maps, and species accounts are all excellent and fully referenced. These two volumes provided a valuable source of information that goes well beyond what can be found in a traditional field guide.  And they provided a greatly needed update to Wright and Wright's Handbook of Frogs and Toads that was first published in 1933.

Tracks and Shadows, Field biology as art. By Harry W. Greene. University of California Press. 280 pp.

Howard Gardner, Harvard Psychologist, studies human intelligence, and categories intelligence into nine types. One of those categories is naturalist intelligence which allows humans to discriminate among life forms and show sensitivity to the natural world. Gardner notes that this type of intelligence was of high value in human evolutionary history when we were hunters, gathers, and more of us were farmers. Today, hunters and gathers are few in number, farmers compose about 10% or less of the population. So individuals born today with a high level of naturalist intelligence frequently become  botanists, zoologists, ecologists, and evolutionary biologists. People who read this blog are likely candidates for having high levels of naturalists intelligence.

Harry Greene's naturalist intelligence has been clear in all of his writings, but is clarified even further in Tracks and Shadows.The book is autobiographical and contains a strong message about human understanding of the natural world and of course the importance of snakes.

Of interest to me was the insights into the life of Henry  Fitch, pioneer ecologist and herpetologist at the University of Kansas. Fitch produced many classic natural history works on a variety of North American squamates over the years, When the author asked him about god,  Fitch replied, "I have no religious beliefs. Although I was raised in that environment natural history does it for me."
If all human brains were wired for natural history, like those of Henry Fitch or Harry Greene the Earth would be a much better place and one that would likely support the human species for a longer period of time.

The messages in this book, natural history is fun, intellectually challenging, and absolutely necessary if human are going to have a future. Increasing the human understanding of natural history is really the only thing that stands between a sustainable human population and the human-made sewer that you find just about every where you go.
anyone interested in the snake fauna of Asia.
The Snakes of the Moluccas (Maluku), Indonesia: A Field Guide to the Land and Non-Marine Aquatic Snakes of the Moluccas with Identification Key.  Series: Frankfurt Contributions to Natural History 59. By Ruud de Lang. 417 pages, 399 color photos and b/w illustrations, b/w distribution maps, 11 tables. Edition Chimaira

Few places on the planet have a snake fauna that is more poorly known that of eastern Indonesia. Ruud De Lang's new field guide provides the starting point for anyone exploring the herpetology of these remote islands. Forty-nine species accounts are provided along with a key (in both English and Bahasa Indonesian).  One genus of particular interest Acantophis, the death adders which are represented on several islands in the Seram group as well as the satellite island of Bisa  just north of Obi. How many species are represented is the islands is unclear, but they show a variety of color patterns some of which are illustrated in this book. 

The book is exceptionally well illustrated with photos of live specimens and habitats and will likely stimulate further herpetological exploration of the islands' fauna. This book is a must for anyone interested in the snake fauna of Asia. 

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