This time we’ll be focussing on a book that has been around for quite a while but has lots of relevant information and a really nice feel to it, being written in a relaxed manner but still packing in plenty of facts. The book is ‘Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatan, and Belize’, by Jonathan A.Campbell, a man who has clearly spent many many years in the country – most of them looking for herps it seems!

Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatan, and Belize by Jonathan A.Campbell.

Published in 1998 the book inevitably contains some scientific names that have now dropped out of use and been replaced as research has revealed previously unknown relationships, and obviously cannot make reference to any data obtained since then regarding distribution, new species etc. This shouldn’t put you off as a huge amount of the information gathered here remains incredibly useful in identifying, and learning about, the animals you may see on an expedition.

The Introduction section contains some very good black and white line drawings depicting subjects such as the difference between anuran feet, variations in turtle carapaces and plastra, and the differences in shapes and scalation of the heads of snakes and lizards. There is also a summary of climate and weather and the various habitats found in the region. A good opening description of each grouping of animals then leads into the species descriptions, organised by Family.

The descriptions here, coupled with the Keys found as appendices will guide you towards identifying any herp you come across and further clues are given in the Natural history part of each species description detailing activity, habitat, timing of reproduction etc. These aren’t the most detailed notes but do cover some of the main points. Most species are featured in the central section of photographs. 

Distribution is described via the text and no maps are presented, which does make for slightly hard work and for me is the only negative side to the book. I have heard that the author is due to produce a new book, covering the whole of Guatemala, which I dearly hope won’t be lacking distribution maps.

The highlight of the book for me are the many anecdotes and tales scattered throughout the book in stand- alone boxes, covering a variety of topics such as iguana hunting, tail shedding and various other comical escapades. These are all written in a friendly and engaging style and the author vividly portrays the obsessive nature of herpers worldwide, not being afraid to point out the sheer madness that can sometimes overtake us in the field as we chase down that next elusive frog, snake or lizard!

Rather chillingly there is mention of the First World Congress of Herpetology and the prevalence of presentations regarding disappearing amphibians, disease gets a quick mention as a possible cause of declines but Chytrid is notable by its absence from the text..how quickly that was to change.

Snakes of United States and Canada by Ernst and Ernst

Perhaps not immediately apparent when thinking about Guatemala, but there are a number of relevant species descriptions, and some incredibly detailed notes and summaries of information, contained in ‘Snakes of United States and Canada’ by Ernst and Ernst. Some species found in Central America have huge distributional ranges and also feature in the States, where they tend to have been studied in far greater detail. The authors here seemingly provide us with every shred of information ever gathered for species such as Leptodeira septentrionalisDrymobius margaritiferus and others which may crop up in the forests of Peten.

A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Belize by John R.Meyer and Carol Farneti Foster

In the same way, but on the amphibian side, there are some relevant species descriptions of Peten inhabiting anurans in ‘A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Belize’ by John R.Meyer and Carol Farneti Foster. It is a fairly slim volume and the picture quality is a touch variable but with Belize being in such close proximity there is a fair degree of overlap of species so if you can get access to a copy it would be worth a look.

Next time we’ll be stepping back a bit from species and their habits and looking at the bigger picture.

REVIEW: Gary Powell, 9 September 2014

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