Firefly Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians / Edition 2

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The latest findings, brought vividly to life.

This highly acclaimed encyclopedia combines authoritative, easy-to-read essays with exciting photographs showing reptiles and amphibians in their natural habitats. Illustrations explain anatomy and biological features, and maps show world distribution of species. Commissioned articles by scientists, zoologists and researchers provide the latest findings and interpretations of data.

Each species listing has a "factfile" of essential data: scientific order and population; distribution (with a color-coded map) and habitat; size and color; reproduction and life cycle; longevity and conservation status.

All status descriptions have been updated in this revised edition, which also includes:

  • Descriptions of all new families of amphibians and reptiles
  • Updated range maps for all families
  • Revised family relationship diagrams in light of current taxonomic understanding
  • New species and genus totals for all groups.

Authoritative, comprehensive and beautiful, this landmark volume is strongly recommended for anyone with a keen interest in amphibians and reptiles.

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Editorial Reviews

American Reference Books Annual, Volume 35 - Edmund Keiser Jr.
[Review of earlier edition:] A superbly attractive, authoritative, and highly informative sourcebook on amphibians and reptiles... Discussions throughout are supported by superb color photographs and vividly rendered artwork. Technical terminology is minimal and the text can be easily comprehended by anyone with a high school education.
Quarterly Review of Biology - Neil B. Ford and David F. Ford
[Review of earlier edition:] Extremely useful both in terms of its relative completeness and its up-to-date facts... this volume should be in the library of any nature lover..
Choice - T.R. Faust
[Review of earlier edition:] Topical arrangement and captivating photos assure that a quick look-up will take longer than expected ... this book is plenty fine.
Science News
[Review of earlier edition:] These beautifully illustrated encyclopedias not only detail individual species, but also provide a wealth of information about how these creatures interact with one another and people.
Canadian Materials - Gillian Richardson
[Review of earlier edition:] Illustrations are generous and of excellent quality... extremely detailed presentation.
Library News for Zoos and Aquariums - Johnson Thane
[Review of earlier edition:] A helpful feature in this book is the use of excellent sidebars ... photographs (all in color) are simply excellent ... highly recommended.
Globe and Mail
[Review of earlier edition:] Dramatically photographed and with a surprisingly informative text.
[Review of earlier edition:] Visually stunning ... over 300 flawless color photographs ... highly recommended.
Science Teacher - Rachel Forman
[Review of earlier edition:] A great classroom reference ... will wind up on a teacher's wish list because it is attractive and scientific.
[Review of earlier edition:] A striking abundance of information at a glance ... strongly recommended for high-school, public and academic libraries.
Herpetological Review - Jay M. Savage
[Review of earlier edition:] I strongly recommend [this book for]... anyone seriously interested in amphibians and reptiles. It is a fine reference source and its visual images are aesthetic delights that will be returned to many times.
Canadian Field Naturalist - David Seburn
[Review of earlier edition:] Clearly written and wonderfully illustrated... a highly readable and thoroughly fascinating introduction to the biology, diversity, and conservation of amphibians and reptiles.
Wildlife Activist - Michal Kubik
[Review of earlier edition:] Most highly recommended, this book provides a wealth of information to anyone interested in, or just vaguely curious about, amphibians and reptiles.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554073665
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/12/2008
  • Edition description: Second edition, revised and updated
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 11.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Mattison is a zoologist and the author of 15 books on reptiles and amphibians. He lives in England.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Classification and Taxonomy
A Key Amphibian Event
Kaleidoscopic Adaptation
Conscientious Parents
Amphibian Population Decline
Amphibian Conservation
Swimming, Eating, Growing Machines


Salamanders and Newts
Salamander and Newt Families
Courtship and Mating in Salamanders and Newts
Repellent Defenders

Frogs and Toads
Frog and Toad Families
Leaps and Bounds
Decoding the Frog Chorus
From Tadpole to Frog


The Age of Reptiles
Temperature Control in Reptiles
Reptiles at Risk
Play in Reptiles
Pre-ejaculators, Sneakers, and She-males
Temperature and Sex

Turtles and Tortoises
Turtle and Tortoise Families
The Asian Turtle Crisis
Leatherbacks: Birth on the Beach

Natural Desert Dwellers
Lizard Families


Venomous Snakes
The Threat from Snakebites
Snake Families
Harvesting Snake Venom



Pollution and Hormone Mimics
The Redundant Male?

Picture and artwork credits

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Amphibians and reptiles form two separate classes of animals, but they are traditionally studied together, a situation that arose partly because the distinctions were not well understood in the early days of zoology. In practice, it is still convenient to study them together because they often live in the same places and searching for them often involves the same techniques. The study of reptiles and amphibians is known as herpetology, from the Greek word herpeto, meaning "to creep."

In the early days, herpetology had a smaller following than other biological disciplines such as ornithology or botany. Part of the reason lay in distribution patterns, with reptiles and amphibians tending to be most numerous in the parts of the world where scientists were least numerous, notably South America, Africa, South East Asia, and Australasia. In Europe and temperate North America, the traditional seats of learning, they remain unseen for much of the year. In addition, they are usually inedible, if not downright poisonous, and therefore had little economic importance. And, it must be said, some are not beautiful in the conventional sense of the word; at least, not in the eyes of the uninformed. Little wonder, then, that the naturalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not think they played a very important part in the grand scheme of things. Linnaeus called them "foul and loathsome creatures," while Charles Darwin described the Marine iguana as "a hideous-looking creature, of a dirty black color, stupid, and sluggish in its movements."

Although some species are still the objects of fear, superstition, and prejudice, for the most part attitudes changed gradually over the twentieth century. Furthermore, because they are relatively easy to house and observe in captivity, reptiles and amphibians often make good subjects for studies whose implications spill over into other branches of the biological sciences.

Through the media of books, photography, and film, there is a growing appreciation nowadays of the ways in which reptiles and amphibians have adapted for life in a variety of different environments, notably rain forests, where amphibian and reptile diversity reaches its greatest heights, and in deserts, where reptiles (especially lizards) are often the most obvious form of vertebrate life. Inherent variation in lifestyle has much to do with their success. To name just a few of these variables, reptiles and amphibians may be oviparous or viviparous; several are parthenogenetic, and many species can shut down their physiological systems for long periods of time to avoid prolonged heat, cold, or drought. Reptiles can uncouple the activities of mating and fertilization, allowing females to store sperm for weeks, months, or even years, while many amphibians have developed breeding systems that enable them to be independent of standing water.

This book discusses all these subjects, and more. It follows the traditional threads that represent the way in which species, genera, and families are arranged into hierarchical groups depending on their similarities and differences—the science of taxonomy. There is an extensive introduction to each of the two classes, describing their origins and giving an overview of their biology. Within each class, separate accounts of the three orders of amphibians and the four orders of reptiles deal in more detail with their specific biology and provide interesting facts about their members, and there is a short description of each family. The accounts of the five largest groups are summarized with annotated lists of the families, giving statistics for the numbers of species and genera, their most important characteristics, some examples, and a distribution map.

Superimposed on this outline plan are other threads, which cut across the taxonomic divisions and sub-divisions and deal with the disciplines of anatomy, physiology, ecology, and behavior, subjects that are common to all species, including other animals, thus emphasizing their similarities as well as their differences. Throughout the book there are also articles on topics of special interest. These highlight aspects of the study of reptiles and amphibians that have made herpetology an increasingly important discipline within zoology. They can be read independently of the rest of the text. In addition, captions for many of the diagrams and photographs are extensive, providing interesting supplementary material.

Recent developments in the techniques by which animals can be studied have given our understanding of reptiles and amphibians new impetus in recent years. Advances in DNA technology and other types of biochemical analysis, for example, are helping to solve many of the puzzles surrounding their relationships. All this takes time but, as each unit (species, genus, family, or order) is investigated, new schemes, such as that recently established for a radical system of frog classification, will occur across the board. The classification of the Colubridae, a family that currently contains an unlikely 60 percent of all snakes, readily springs to mind as an example of just one other area that needs urgent attention. While all this is taking place in the laboratory, field workers are benefiting from the technological revolution in electronics, where miniaturization and telemetry give them the tools to track animals that spend a large part of their time out of sight. Activities and social interactions that were previously unknown, or mere guesswork, are now being monitored, and the resulting information is fascinating; amphibians and reptiles are not the mindless creatures that many people thought they were but often lead complex and effective lives to ensure their survival.

Unfortunately, animals whose survival strategies have evolved over thousands of generations and in response to gradual changes are ill-equipped to deal with the sudden and dramatic changes that are now occurring. In the previous editions of this book, the authors and editors frequently stressed the need for conservation and the dangers facing the future of reptiles and amphibians. Since the 2002 edition the situation has deteriorated further. A steady stream of reptiles and amphibians are going extinct in most parts of the world. More than 20 species of reptiles have gone in living memory, due to habitat destruction and competition and predation from introduced species, especially domestic animals. Another 200 species are either Endangered or Critically Endangered, and many species that were once common are now scarce and their populations fragmented. Amphibians are the worst affected, for reasons that are discussed elsewhere, and the statistics speak for themselves. The IUCN estimates that 737 species of amphibians are Endangered, another 441 are Critically Endangered, and 34 have recently become extinct. These 1,212 species represent a staggering 18 percent of the total. To put it another way, nearly one species in five is likely to become extinct in the next couple of decades. And as there are huge areas where surveys have not, or cannot, be carried out, the real figure is probably even higher. Since amphibians are sensitive indicators of the state of the environment as a whole, the implications of this do not auger well.

The forerunner of this book, the Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians, was published in 1986 with the aim of encouraging an interest in reptiles and amphibians by presenting accurate information about them. Its success was followed in 2002 by an updated version, the 'New' Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians, which incorporated much new material based on advances in the study of reptiles and amphibians as well as new graphics and photography. The present edition is the result of a further revision, especially in the area of taxonomy, where great changes have recently taken place. It says much for the excellence of the earlier editions that very little of the original text has had to be touched. The concept of the book, and the information at i

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