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The Evolution of Mystery in Nature

Harry W. Greene (Author), Michael Fogden (Photographer), Patricia Fogden (Photographer)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 365 pages
ISBN: 9780520224872
April 2000
$38.95, £28.95
This is a book about some of nature's most alluring and forbidding creatures, written by a man with an abiding passion for snakes, as well as for science, the fate of the planet, and the wonder of life. Harry Greene presents every facet of the natural history of snakes—their diversity, evolution, and conservation—and at the same time makes a personal statement of why these animals are so compelling.

This book provides an up-to-date summary of the biology of snakes on a global basis. Eight chapters are devoted to general biology topics, including anatomy, feeding, venoms, predation and defense, social behavior, reproduction, evolution, and conservation; eight chapters survey the major snake groups, including blindsnakes, boas, colubrids, stiletto snakes, cobras, sea snakes, and vipers. Details of particular interest, such as coral snake mimicry and the evolution of the0 rattle, are highlighted as special topics. Chapter introductory essays are filled with anecdotes that will tempt nonspecialists to read on, while the book's wealth of comprehensive information will gratify herpeto-culturalists and professional biologists.

Greene's writing is clear, engaging, and full of appreciation for his subject. Michael and Patricia Fogden are known internationally for their outstanding work, and their stunning color photographs of snakes in their natural habitats are a brilliant complement to Greene's text. Here is a scientific book that provides accurate information in an accessible way to general readers, strongly advocates for a persecuted group of animals, encourages conservation—not just of snakes but of ecosystems—and credits science for enriching our lives. In helping readers explore the role of snakes in human experience, Greene and the Fogdens show how science and art can be mutual pathways to understanding.
Harry W. Greene is Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. He was formerly the Curator of Herpetology the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he won the campuswide Distinguished Teaching Award in 1993. In 2000, he was awarded the third Edward Osborne Wilson Naturalist Award, presented by the American Society of Naturalists. Michael and Patricia Fogden are acclaimed nature photographers whose work has appeared in such publications as Smithsonian and Natural History, and in books published by Time-Life, National Geographic, and Audubon. They live in Costa Rica.
“Greene’s book is a masterpiece, filled with beautiful photography and myriad interesting details.”—Tom Butler Wild Earth
"A marvelous, well-written account of the science, natural history, lore, and poetry of snakes by a world authority. Greene has the valuable gift of sharing his own many field adventures with the reader."—Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University

Silver medal in Notable Contribution to Publishing, Commonwealth Club of California

PEN Center USA West Literary Award for Research-Based Nonfiction, PEN Center

Snakes might rank more nearly equivalent to birds and mammals if our formal classification of living creatures really reflected distinctive characteristics, richness of species, and varieties of lifestyles. Biologically, these "limbless tetrapods" are highly specialized and remarkably diverse. More than 2,700 species of snakes are currently recognized, placed in about 420 genera and 18 families. Snakes inhabit all major ecosystems outside of the polar regions and are among the most common predators on other vertebrates. Using science and art as mutual pathways to understanding, the author and photographers combine their talents to provide an overview of snakes that is both accessible to lay people and scholarly in treatment. Because Greene is a scientist actively involved in studying snakes, the book's coverage is up-to-date and synthetic. His love of natural history is evident throughout, as the text is packed with details of the biology of snakes in their environments. This multi-dimensional approach results in a book that will be of interest to professional biologists, serious naturalist, herpetoculturists, and others who want to learn about these creatures. Eight chapters are devoted to general topics in snake biology, including anatomy, feeding, venoms, predation and defense, social behavior, reproduction, evolution, and conservation; eight chapters survey the major groups of snakes, including blindsnakes, boas and other primitive snakes, colubrids, stiletto snakes, cobras and seasnakes, and vipers. Most chapters also present a special topic, set apart from the main text, covering details of particular interest, such as the feeding adaptations of African egg-eating snakes, coralsnake mimicry, and the evolution of facial pits and the rattle. Each chapter opens with an essay that concerns the subject of the main text but is not about science in any strict sense. These essays offer reflections on various incidents and topics, from Greene's walk in the Mojave Desert after his father's death, to the attitudes of bird-watchers toward snakes, to rattlesnakes as improbable symbols of nature appreciation. Together the essays form a second, smaller book that runs through the main text, leading to the Epilogue and Greene's personal answer to the question, Why snakes? The text is enriched throughout by more than two hundred color images by Michael and Patricia Fogden, among the world's most renowned nature photographers. The special quality of their photographs reflects the Fogden's superior technical skills, graduate training in biology, and a rare ability to fuse art with natural history. Included are wide-angle "in habitat" portraits, illustrations of feeding and reproductive behavior, and images of Round Island Boas, Fea's Viper, and other extremely rare species. The Fogdens' photographs illustrate many aspects of snake biology while revealing the beauty of "the evolution of mystery in nature." An appendix briefly explains systematics and evolutionary inference, and a bibliography of more than eight hundred references provides sources for the text as well as an extensive introduction to the literature on snakes.

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