A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa, by Johan Marais
The aim of A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa is not only to assist in identifying southern Africa's diverse range of snakes, but also to give the layperson, including snake enthusiasts, a fresh understanding and appreciation of these fascinating creatures.
There are 170-odd species and subspecies of snakes in southern Africa, many of which are insufficiently studied and poorly understood. The response to A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa, which was first published in 1992, was overwhelmingly positive and evoked many helpful comments. This new edition has been revised in the light of such comments and the many queries and suggestions I have received. The text has been updated and includes accounts of at least 11 new species and subspecies, while more than 30 species and subspecies have been reassigned. Snakes such as the Red Adder (Bitis rubida}, the Albany Adder (Bitis albanica) and the Southern Adder (Bitis armata) were described fairly recently, while others such as the Vine or Twig Snakes of the genus Thelotornis have been reallocated.
With the rapid advance of herpetology in southern Africa, new distributional data has also come to light. Herpetologists now have greater contact with colleagues worldwide and more research is being conducted than before, both locally and by overseas researchers. In addition, new techniques in DNA analysis are proving to be extremely helpful, especially in the field of taxonomy. As much additional information as possible has been included in the species accounts that relates to behaviour, natural history, reproduction and snake venoms. Colour photographs now accompany the species descriptions and this, together with the simple icons that make essential information readily available at a glance, will, I hope, enhance the guide and make it even more user-friendly.
In view of the fear and superstition that surrounds snakes, it is worth stating that relatively few snakebite incidents are fatal. Snakebites can range from very dangerous to merely painful or even completely harmless. Several authoritative books have been written on the subject of snakebite and its management. Articles appear in scientific and medical journals, popular magazines and newspapers, while colour brochures on the subject are published from time to time. However, many of these contributions are very technical and focus on the medical treatment of snakebite, the use of antivenom in conjunction with steroids, adrenaline, etc. This book avoids technical terminology where possible and is a more general and practical guide that will appeal to the layperson: the farmer, housewife, gardener, hiker, hunter, fisherman or anyone else who spends time outdoors.
While it is crucial that correct procedures be followed if a snake does bite someone, we humans pose a far greater threat to snakes than they do to us. Urban development, industrialization and mass destruction of natural habitats to make way for agriculture have seriously threatened a number of species. Further study of the impact of these activities on snake populations is urgently required. It is my hope that this book will contribute to a more respectful attitude to these sensitive and skilled predators and to a better understanding of their importance in nature.
How to use this book:
Photographs accompany most species, including as far as possible any variant colour forms or subspecies. To limit confusion, photographs of similar or easily confused species are also featured along with the snake under discussion. To facilitate identification, each species account is split up into several headings and is accompanied by a series of icons (explained below). A separate 'Look out for' box highlights each snake's most prominent features for quick identification. Essential technical terms are explained in the glossary on page 301.
1. Locator map: Each species is accompanied by a distribution map. The distributions on these maps reflect the areas in which the snakes may be found, rather than being derived from general museum records, which are not always comprehensive. This is merely a precautionary approach, as in several regions little museum collecting has been done, although certain species of snakes are known to live there. For more precise distribution information, readers are referred to the various museums that house herpetological collections as well as Fitzsimons' Snakes of Southern Africa (see bibliography).
2. Common name: The common name is given at the start of each species account. The same snake may have several common names, and names may also vary from one area to another. Any comments regarding common names will be welcomed and can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Scientific name: The scientific name is provided for each species. This usually consists of two parts, the first indicating the genus to which the snake belongs, the second giving the actual species name. If there are three names, the third name indicates that the snake under discussion is a subspecies or subgroup of a particular species.
4. Other names: Where available Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa names have also been included.
This is an extract from: A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa
Book title: A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa
Author: Johan Marais
Cape Town, 2004
Softcover, 17x24 cm, 312 pages, throughout colour photos
Marais, Johan im Namibiana-Buchangebot
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