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The Ultimate Guide to Snakes & Reptiles af…
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The Ultimate Guide to Snakes & Reptiles (udgave 2007)

af Derek Hall (Forfatter)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingSamtaler
191922,769 (4.5)Ingen
Informative text and hundreds of full-color illustrations combine to make this a very comprehensive and beautiful survey of these animals you love to hate.
Medlem:nlmii
Titel:The Ultimate Guide to Snakes & Reptiles
Forfattere:Derek Hall (Forfatter)
Info:Chartwell Books (2007), 443 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
Vurdering:*****
Nøgleord:nature

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The Ultimate Guide to Snakes & Reptiles af Derek Hall

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Derek Hall

The Ultimate Guide to Snakes & Reptiles

Hermes House, Hardback, 2011.

8vo. 443 pp. 465 photographs. Index [436-43].

First published, 2004?

Contents

Chapter One: What is a Reptile?
Chapter Two: The Evolution of Reptiles
Chapter Three: Tortoises & Turtles
Chapter Four: Lizards
Chapter Five: Snakes
Chapter Six: Tuatara
Chapter Seven: Crocodilians
Chapter Eight: Reptiles & Man

Index

========================================

Aren't reptiles fascinating? Oddly enough, few people find them so. They are terrified by the huge evolutionary gap: something with fur and paws looks more congenial. They think reptiles are cold, slimy, venomous and dangerous. Sometimes they are, but more often they are not.

I am in the minority who finds reptiles immensely fascinating. Consider snakes for a moment. Leglessness – indeed, limblessness – seems such a terrible handicap, yet they have made such a marvellous job of it. Snake movements are some of the most beautiful things in nature. But forget the aesthetics. Look at snakes from an evolutionary point of view. They’ve been around for some 150 million years, have colonized all continents (and most large islands) except Antarctica, and exist in about, say, 3,000 different species. All this without limbs!

So this book, which is the perfect one to give as a present to the people mentioned in the first paragraph, was preaching to the converted in my case. Nevertheless, I have greatly enjoyed browsing through it, and this is what I found.

This is not, of course, a "guide", still less is it an “ultimate” one. It is a brief introduction to an endless subject, decently if not brilliantly written and stupendously if not always appositely illustrated. The title should have been changed, of course, because it also implies that snakes are not reptiles.

The text is a little baffling. It begins with definitions of classification (“placing in groups”) and taxonomists (“people who classify living things”). Surely, lay readers are not necessarily that uneducated? Then again, maybe they are. Later on, fortunately, the text drops this misguided attitude and uses without explanation such tough terms like “dorsal” and “hemorrhagic”. On the whole, the text is informative enough for the purpose, but dry and dull, not to mention printed in murderous font. But it provides, at least, decent basic knowledge about the variety, size, anatomy, physiology and behaviour of reptiles. You can learn such essential bits of trivia like why the famous term “cold-blooded” is hardly accurate (“ectothermic” is the correct word, though the author never mentions it), why reptiles can survive with 30–50 times less food than a mammal of the same size, and why they have proved evolutionary more versatile than the amphibians.

In the end of five chapters (three to seven), after the general description of the group in question, there are brief descriptions of all families that belong to that group. These are the less successful parts. The text tries, and fails, to be really scientific. There is not enough space for that in the first place, and it leads to a good deal of unnecessary repetition. Perhaps part of this material would have been better placed in the general description, and the rest should have been omitted or at least presented in shortened table form. If you try to use these family descriptions to identify the reptiles you have come across all around the world, you will probably fail. Very few species are mentioned. Not many of them are illustrated, either.

The illustrations are all in full colour and high definition. They illustrate well the huge variety of shapes and colours among reptiles, and also some of their most characteristic body parts (e.g. scales) or patterns of behaviour (e.g. feeding, mating, laying eggs). The problem is, the illustrations don’t always go hand in hand with the text. There are many species that are mentioned, or even described in some detail, but are nowhere to be seen. Or if they are, you have to use the index (it gives both Latin and ordinary names) and skip a hundred pages.

One thing the illustrations unfortunately lack is an easy visual image of the reptile classification. Explaining this in textual form is nowhere near as effective. Now, classification is complex, contradictory and anything but stable. Taxonomists constantly argue about it, geneticists revise it based on the “latest evidence”, and the layman is left confused. Still, a simple classification table in the beginning of the book would have made things much easier. Nothing detailed or pedantically accurate, but something like this:

Class Reptilia (reptiles)
- Subclass Synapsida (extinct)
- Subclass Euryapsida (extinct)
- Subclass Anapsida
- - - Order Testudines, or Chelonia (turtles, tortoises, terrapins)
- Subclass Diapsida
- - Superorder Archosauria
- - - Order Crocodilia (crocodiles, alligators, caimans)
- - - dinosaurs and modern birds
- - Superorder Lepidosauria
- - - Order Rhynchocephalia (tuatara)
- - - Order Squamata (scaled reptiles)
- - - - Suborder Lacertilia (lizards)
- - - - Suborder Serpentes, or Ophidia (snakes)
- - - - Suborder Amphisbaenia (worm lizards)

Each chapter could also have begun with a more detailed classification table for the group in question. Taxonomy is far easier in table form than in textual one.

In conclusion, this is a great book that could have been greater. The title should have been changed to “A Brief Introduction to Reptiles”, the text reorganised, and the illustrations more carefully chosen. That aside, I still think this is a charming book for the amateur herpetologist to peruse. It certainly is an excellent starting point for the unfortunate reptile hater. (You don’t know what you’re missing, fellows!) Specialists may well find many omissions and a few errors, but in a book of this kind, unencumbered with notes and even bibliography, this is not exactly unusual.

The hundreds of photos, even if they sometimes give the impression of having being selected by somebody who hasn’t read the text very carefully, remain the chief glory of the book. For them alone – but also for the attractive price – this hefty volume is worthy of the shelves of any enthusiastic reptile neophyte. Everybody who thinks the adjective “reptilian” is offensive should also have it. By the time they reach the back cover, it will be a compliment. ( )
2 stem Waldstein | Aug 13, 2016 |
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