Monday, July 28, 2008

Encyclopedia of Snakes

The New Encyclopedia of Snakes, by Chris Mattison
$23.10 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 069113295x
I have a selection of coffee table books in my apartment, and have noticed that this is the one that seems to attract the most attention. Snakes are simply irresistible, and since most people find looking at photos of them more enjoyable than encountering them in real life, this book is a terrific choice.
There are almost 3,000 different varieties of snakes, which live on every continent except Antarctica. People have a deeply ingrained mistrust of snakes: drivers who would swerve to avoid hitting animals on the highway will often go out of their way to crush a snake, often reversing the car to back over it again, making sure that it's really dead.
This reaction is fueled by ignorance: most snakes are harmless and beautiful to look at. This book has over 200 breathtaking, full color photos which are a lot of fun to flip through. 
My favorites show snakes devouring their prey. There are some good ones of snakes eating frogs, bats, and small rodents. I didn't show these photos here, for fear of grossing my readers out. They're definitely worth checking out, though.
Because they have long, slender bodies, snakes are masters at hiding in tiny crevices. Whenever a house is demolished or boulders are excavated, thousands of snakes flee the scene. Hiding is usually their best defense, but they have a dazzling assortment of poisons and camouflages in case they're disturbed. Some of them, like the anacondas and pythons, are massive enough to be intimidating to almost any predator. 
My favorite, the King Cobra (shown left), can spit venom, causing blindness or paralysis. You don't want to mess with a creature like that.
Included is a good chapter on snake reproduction (seeing them give birth is really creepy), and another on what they like to eat. He's even included a lot of helpful information on keeping snakes as pets, for those who are interested. He doesn't mention every single species in the world, but the most common and interesting varieties are all here. 
Mattison is a very good writer. Usually books like this are a bit dry to read, but he's created a work of non-fiction that the most casual admirer can read and understand. There are a lot of "snippets", which are fascinating, completely self-contained, and can be enjoyed in under five minutes, making this the ideal book to idly flip through, almost like  magazine. It's a bit pricey, but the thorough research and shockingly beautiful photos make it worth the investment.


godfrey said...

Yes, they are the most beautiful and fascinating creatures. Thanks for reminding me.

hans said...