Stay informed: Sign up for eNews Subscribe

Snakes The Evolution of Mystery in Nature

  • by Harry W. Greene (Author), Michael Fogden (Photographer), Patricia Fogden (Photographer)
  • April 2000
  • First Edition
  • Paperback
    $38.95,  £32.00
  • Title Details

    Rights: Available worldwide
    Pages: 366
    ISBN: 9780520224872
    Trim Size: 8.5 x 11
    Illustrations: 215 color photographs, 3 line drawings

Read the Abstract
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.