________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 9 . . . . January 3, 2003


The Firefly Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians.

Tim Halliday and Kraig Adler (Eds.).
Willowdale, ON: Firefly Books, 2002.
240 pp., cloth, $40.00.
ISBN 1-55297-613-0.

Subject Headings:

Grade 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***½ /4


Amphibians forage for food in two basic ways. Some sit and wait for prey to come to them; these species are generally diurnal and cryptically colored and may even use lures, such as species of South American horned frogs that twitch the tips of their toes to attract other frogs within range. Others are active foragers that seek out prey; these species are often nocturnal but, if diurnal, are aposematically colored and toxic, like poison frogs or the eft stage of the Red-spotted newt.

While reptiles and amphibians have traditionally been studied as a single unit, herpetologists have discovered striking differences. The Firefly Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians aims to arouse fascination and greater understanding for the place these animal classes occupy in nature in response to a recent upsurge of interest in their contributions to zoological knowledge. It appears these animals are more diverse and can exploit a wider range of habitats than formerly thought, highlighting a need for closer attention to conservation.

     The editors are acknowledged experts in the field of biology. The contributors comprise a list of 38 scientists primarily associated with universities in the UK or USA.

     The book is divided into two sections to describe these classes of invertebrates: amphibia (the most familiar are salamanders and frogs) include 44 families with 5399 species, and reptilia (including turtles, lizards, snakes and crocodiles) occupy 60 families with more than 7776 species. Each class is introduced by a major article followed by several "Special Features" pages offering an in-depth look at specific aspects, eg. "Declining Amphibian Populations." In color-coded main entry sections, each group is thoroughly examined under subheadings describing general physiology, locomotion, feeding, defense, conservation and environment. A “Factfile” summarizes data on Distribution (including a colored map), Habitat, Size, Color, Reproduction, Longevity and Conservation Status. A detailed tabular summary then breaks the group into families, eg. 28 families of frogs and toads. Three “Photo Story” pages give a more visual account of a life process, eg. "Leatherbacks, Birth on the Beach." A glossary of common and more difficult biological terms, a bibliography of reference sources and further reading (in extremely small type, and mainly of value to the serious researcher) and an extensive index complete the book.

     Illustrations are generous and of excellent quality, whether close-up color photos, or precisely coloured drawings (eg. eight stages of a frog's jump), line drawings and graphs. They are well placed throughout the book, breaking up sections of rather small type that would otherwise be visually overwhelming in this large book.

     The sophisticated reading level will make this volume with its extremely detailed presentation accessible to capable high school students and adults. Younger readers who have developed the skill of “reading illustrations” will also find a wealth of fascinating information.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian who lives in BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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