Reptile Ravings

     

 A Guide to Australian Lizards in Captivity

Thursday, July 17, 2014



Book Review by Robert Porter

 

A Guide to Australian Lizards in Captivity

By Dr Danny Brown BVSc (Hons) BSc (Hons)

 

Hard Cover, A4 size, 952 colour pages, 2865 colour images, tables and charts, glossary, index, RRP $350 + P&H

 

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the word “encyclopaedic” is—

‘comprehensive, complete, thorough,  full, exhaustive, in-depth, wide-ranging, broad-ranging, broad-based, all-inclusive, all-embracing, all-encompassing, universal, vast, compendious’.

 

This group of words sums up this amazing publication perfectly. The time period of my own involvement in the husbandry of reptiles, and particularly lizards, extends far longer than I care to freely admit in public (or, in truth, than I can remember!). Extensive as it is, however, I have never encountered such an encyclopaedic book on this subject as this momentous volume.

Danny Brown has been a leading light in the development of Australian lizard captive husbandry for many years. I still clearly recall my first conversation with Danny when he rang me back in the mid-1990s seeking advice on obtaining collection permits of a number of rather obscure and little-known small Australian lizards. I remember thinking how refreshing it was that someone else was so enthusiastic about this rather neglected group of reptiles that had already fascinated me for many years. Since that time Danny has progressed in leaps and bounds and accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience emerging as an expert in his field not just in Australia but internationally. However, this accrued expertise is of limited value unless it is shared and disseminated to others within the hobby and, thankfully, that is just what Danny has achieved with this book.

The book begins with the extensive contents section that readers of the previously released publications in the Guide to... series would be familiar with. There were some grumbles that no index component was included in these earlier books and that it relied totally on the detailed contents pages. Personally, I found the uniform chapter layout and degree of detail in the contents was adequate to enable the reader to locate specific details without too much fuss, but these calls have been answered by the inclusion of an index at the conclusion of this new publication along with an extensive bibliography and very useful glossary.

The Contents Overview section at the very beginning sets the scene for the rest of the publication. Danny touches on the minefield of taxonomy here explaining his potentially controversial use of some names in the publication. Australian reptile taxonomy is in a somewhat dynamic situation at present, much of which is due to the advent of the use of DNA to differentiate species hitherto thought to be of the same taxon. Some of the names included may add to the current confused situation but this is offset by the detailed information the author includes explaining the use of these names, their origin, identifying synonymies, etc. The other important point raised in the overview is the excellent use of snout-vent length as a base to recommend sizes of a range of husbandry subjects such as enclosure, nest box and hide sizes, substrate depth, etc. This is an extremely simple system that works well throughout the publication.

The book begins properly on page 27 and the following 204 pages cover general aspects of lizard husbandry including housing, heating, lighting, humidity, feeding, breeding and health. These sections are mostly a revamp and combination of the same sections in the various lizard family books already published in the series, although there is some additional information such as extra enclosure photographs (some of which show very impressive set-ups), extra information on sexing of various lizard families and some new content in the Diseases and Disorders section. This extensive part of the book contains a wealth of information with detail unparalleled in any other reptile book supported by ample photographs. The photos are not necessarily what you would expect to see in a showy ‘coffee-table’ publication, they are far better because they perfectly illustrate the practical aspects of husbandry issues that Danny is trying to explain. For this reason alone this book is both unique and immensely valuable. The Lighting section is a perfect example. This runs for some seven pages of text and photos illustrating every aspect of lizard lighting, including explaining the intricacies of ultra-violet light in relatively simple terms, a subject steeped in myths and mystery to many keepers.

Once the basics of lizard husbandry have been dealt with, we then get onto the heart of this book, the Australian lizard families and the amazing species contained within them that captivate reptile enthusiasts around the world. Each family section (geckos, legless lizards, skinks, dragons and monitors) is further divided up into groups requiring similar husbandry techniques. By laying the book out in this fashion Danny has avoided the extensive repetition which can sometimes plague similar publications that tackle each species individually, even though their captive requirements may be very similar. However, this is not to say these chapters lack depth and detail, far from it. Where necessary the author goes to great lengths to highlight aspects of care that are very specific to one particular species within a given group.

These sections also double as something of a field guide (although it would be an energetic field worker that would be prepared to carry this volume around the Australian bush!) with a full range of species photographs the overwhelming majority of which are very high quality and supplied by some of the world’s foremost reptile photographers. Geographic variation in appearance is covered by multiple shots of many species, usually with provenance information supplied as well, and there are also useful photographs of taxa with uncertain taxonomic status.

Unlike the earlier publications in the series these galleries are added at the end of the chapter of each group instead of the beginning, which I believe makes the text in each section flow a lot better.

It is these Species accounts which provide the bulk of the additional data in this publication compared to the previous lizard family books in the Guide to… series. For example in the gecko section there is an extra chapter covering the Chameleon Gecko Carphodactylus, a detailed section on parthenogenesis in the Bynoe’s Gecko group plus numerous other additions such as interesting details of New Guinea species of Cyrtodactylus and newly described Australian species. The same is true in the other family sections such as extensive information on dragon species colour morphs, extra chapters on rainforest monitors, information on potential new species groups e.g. Varanus glauerti and V. scalaris, updated skink taxonomy, etc. etc. etc.

The main gripe about this publication will undoubtedly be the high price, which may place the book out of the reach of some hobbyists. It might be pointed out that purchasing the four earlier family specific books in the series is a more economical option and I am sure this would be the case for those hobbyists that specialise in only one or two lizard families. However, if you compare the total cost of its four predecessors at around $280 to this complete, updated and enhanced book at $350 there really isn’t really a huge difference price-wise but the additional information and photographs plus the convenience of having everything in one volume more than balances out the additional cost.

My personal criticisms are few and far between. I would still like to see more references to the source of information listed in some of the comparison tables, such as incubation times, nutritional value of food items, etc. I think this would add a lot more weight to the value of this data, reinforce its validity and it would also provide the potential for readers to research some of this information further for themselves for additional data. I also found the order of some of the family sections a little strange and quite arbitrary, particularly for geckos and dragons. A more rational order of the species groups where groups of similar husbandry would be better covered consecutively rather than in an apparent random order would make more sense and this would also make it easier for readers to compare allied groups such as Chameleon and Leaf-tailed geckos, small arid dragon species, etc. A similar criticism could be applied to the order of the species photographs at the end of each section where an alphabetical order would simplify the process of looking for a particular species.

On the whole though these points pale in insignificance compared to the overall value of the book and the sheer scale of the author’s achievement in producing a publication that is literally crammed to capacity with practically everything a keeper of Australian lizards could require. This is the type of publication that a reader would purchase and want to protect both because of its price and its impressive appearance. In reality though it will undoubtedly become that well-used, dare I say, dog-eared tome that will sit idle on a book shelf for only a short period of time between constant referrals for guidance and help from the novice and experienced alike.

This is a phenomenal publication which, barring unlikely quantum leaps in husbandry practises in the near future, will become the herpetoculturist’s bible for many years to come. Danny has every right to feel proud of his achievement here and I would suggest that the title is somewhat understated, as indicated by the definition at the start of this review, this book is far more than just a guide. If you are a keen lizard hobbyists, do yourself a favour, buy this book, it may well be the only one you will ever need.

 

Published by Reptile Publications

www.reptilepublications.com

reptiles@reptilepublications.com.au


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