European Reptile and Amphibian Guide
Here’s the scenario. You are walking along a dusty track, waiting for the next wheatear to pop up. Suddenly there is a movement: a lizard with interesting markings has ‘frozen’ on a boulder. As you edge closer you are able to admire the yellow spots along its flank and the delicate mix of greens and browns on its back. You take a few pictures so you can identify it once you get home.
But wouldn’t it be nice to put a name to the mystery lizard now? I’ve had a number of frustrating experiences like this while travelling around Europe. The only alternative was to take another heavy field guide. Until now.
Axel Kwet’s guide to European reptiles and amphibians uses fine colour photography to illustrate some 200 species of lizards, turtles and tortoises, snakes, frogs, toads and salamandrids.
Of the species covered, 143 are dealt with in some detail, up to four pages in some cases. A further 59 are described much more briefly. For example, a page and a half is devoted to Ibiza Wall Lizard, while the closely related Lilford’s Wall Lizard, Moroccan Rock Lizard and Madeira Lizard (all with very limited European ranges) are given only a few sentences each.
The text for the main species includes a description of the animal, its distribution and habitat, notes on interesting behaviour (including, very usefully, whether or not a snake species is venomous), subspecies (where applicable) and similar species. Each of the main species has a distribution map. Add-ons include a list of herpetological websites and publications, a systematic list, an identification key and some basic diagrams of external anatomy.
The big selling point of the volume is the combination of its small size and aesthetically pleasing and informative photographs. In some cases, however, the descriptions could concentrate a little more on diagnostic features; and a glossary of anatomical terms, to bolster the diagrams in the frontpaper, would have been useful.
Within herp-challenged Britain, this book will be of very limited use, but for anyone travelling in Europe it could be invaluable. And don’t forget to send any records to a relevant recording body – with reptiles and amphibians experiencing population declines, your sightings could aid the conservation effort.
• European Reptile and Amphibian Guide by Axel Kwet (New Holland, London, 2009).
• 252 pages, 300 colour photographs, more than 140 distribution maps.
• ISBN 9781847734440. Hbk, £14.99.
Available from Birdwatch Bookshop
First published in Birdwatch 210:45 (December 2009)