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Book Review - new Aussie Book

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Posted by Raymond Hoser on May 19, 2002 at 00:09:11:

Book Review: Originally Published in Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 37(3) March 2002, pages 55-56.
Book Review: Tadpoles of South-east Australia by Marion ANSTIS. Published in 2002 by New Holland Publishers, Suite 411, Level 1, Building 4, 14 Aquatic Drive, Frenchs Forest, NSW, 2086. Phone: +61 2 9975-6799 Fax: +61 2 9453-3077. Postal Address: locked Bag 516, Frenchs Forest, NSW, 1640. Website at: E-mail inquiries to: Available from various herpetological booksellers for about $59.95 in Australia or about US$35 in the USA and elsewhere.
Size: 17.5 cm wide, 25 cm high, 2.3 cm thick, hard cover, dust jacket, mostly full colour photos and drawings throughout the book (excluding the first 81 pages), 281 pages (total) all on high gloss quality paper.
I recall first meeting Marion Anstis in the early 1970's when she was the president of the herpetological section of the Royal Zoological Society of Sydney in New South Wales. This group used to meet monthly at the Australian Museum to discuss the usual herp type things and operated in competition to the Parramatta-based Australian herpetological society.
Anstis later organised the merger of the two groups which history has shown was a relatively wise move.
Anyway, even back then it was clear that she was more into frogs than reptiles.
This was way back in the days when people here in Australia could capture and collect any herps they wanted without having to worry about laws that allegedly "protected" them, raids by wildlife department officials and the like.
They really were the good old days as far as being a herp keeper was concerned.
One weekend we were up at Capertee Valley, a couple of hours drive north-west of Sydney herping when Marion gave me a good introduction to her local knowledge of frogs.
We found tadpoles, and she told me what was for which species.
At night we heard frogs calling and she was quick to tell us what call was for what frog. With this and other field trips, she gave me the grounding to be able to find this sort of thing out myself, so that over the following decades I was able to work out which tadpoles grew into what frogs, not just in my home grounds of south-eastern Australia, but also the tropical north and other parts of Australia that I was lucky enough to visit.
I recall returning from the Capertee Valley with Anstis and another reptile man, Alex Antenor happy in the knowledge that we had in a bag a Broad-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) that we had found under a sandstone slab on a large mountain.
As we drove along the single-laned winding road down the Blue Mountains we could see the sprawling mass of Sydney on the flats below, with the city Skyline nearly 100 km away in the distance.
It was also one of those nights that an offshore low pressure system brought in that steady torrential rain that lasts for days. Sydney gets these big lows several times a year.
Great frog weather, but not good for much else!
And where in Sydney did you find the greatest diversity of frog species?
King Georges Road, Penshurst of course!
And what was there?
Marion's house.
At the time she was living there with her parents and the whole back yard was a mass of ponds, tubs and any other receptacle that held water and allowed frogs to breed.
Even by that stage, Marion had been bringing back frogs and tadpoles from her travels and raising them in ponds in her backyard, where most lived "free" and had basically multiplied.
The noise of various frogs croaking in her backyard was truly something marvelous, particularly in view of the sheer number of different types of call that she could identify.
Now all this was back in the days before we realized the folly of translocating species to areas they hadn't come from, but in our ignorance, all this seemed like bliss.
Anstis never really took to the reptile side of herpetology.
That in itself was fairly unusual as the trend here in Australia seems to be for the frog-lovers to "graduate" into keeping lizards and then snakes and the frogs become all but forgotten.
I recall Marion having a stroppy Broad-headed Snake in a cage (but what Broad-headed snake isn't stroppy?), and her telling me "I'm too scared to handle the thing!".
I think that she later got rid of it.
Over the following two or more decades Marion teamed up with the likes of Mike Tyler and Margaret Davies in Adelaide to study frogs throughout Australia, although she seemed to concentrate her efforts to her local south-east, which happens to have no shortage of interesting species.
She was able to witness first hand the dramatic decline of frogs across much of Australia (the east at least), caused at first by the Cane Toads (Bufo marinus) in Queensland and then the Chytrid fungus throughout Eastern Australia.
And yes we all saw how frogs went from being those taken for granted creatures in their millions to the ever increasingly rare components of our native fauna that really were in need of help to survive.
Anstis has developed a reputation as a dedicated and meticulous worker and her book Tadpoles of South-eastern Australia will no doubt enhance that image.
The book is truly a quality production in all aspects and sets a benchmark for future publications on frogs in all parts of the world.
The style and format of the book are in many ways typical of a herp book and bearing in mind that it is targeted at the herpetologist audience, buyers of the book will have little trouble navigating their way through the book and/or finding a particular section or species within the book.
The contents run as follows:
The obligatory acknowledgements, followed by a foreword by Hal Cogger, the preface, a glossary and then the introduction.
Divided into the three main parts is Part One: "Some Background", which explains frog classification, developmental stages (very important for understanding the later parts of the book), collecting and raising tadpoles, and frog and tadpole conservation issues.
Part Two details tadpole features, has an excellent tadpole key, egg and embryo features and an egg and embryo key. Part Three has a map of the area of study in Australia's south-east and then has the details of the various species described.
In terms of page numbers, these descriptions are by far the major part of the book.
The book ends with a detailed bibliography and then an index.
The information on each species sticks to a similar format and is essentially similar to that of most other "stamp catalogue-style" herp books.
That is the species name is given in the order, scientific name, common name, then describer and date. There is then a colour photo of an adult frog with locality data. The headings tend to be of the following format and order: Distribution and breeding sites (with map), embryos (with subheads), tadpoles (with subheads) and including photos and excellent b/w drawings, including of the oral region and also including size details, metamorphosis, behavior and finally similar species.
The detail is fantastic and because it is consistent for every species in the book and so comprehensive, the book is obviously an excellent tool to use for anyone who wants to themselves go on and study frogs and tadpoles from this region of Australia.
Within it's domain, the book is hard to fault.
My relatively limited expertise on frogs makes it hard for me to critically assess the factual information within this book. However it is clear that the study of frogs in the last twenty years has come a long way forward from back in the old days when Marion and I were pottering around the swamps of inland NSW and elsewhere in search of tadpoles.
My main criticism of the book is that it has limited itself in an already limited market by giving relatively brief (and in my view too brief) accounts of the adult frogs. The criticism is particularly poignant bearing in mind that relatively speaking the amount of work and effort to increase these accounts is small considering the already vast amount of time and effort Marion must have spent to painstakingly inspect, photograph and draw the tadpoles of all the relevant species.
Thus while the book is an excellent tool for anyone with a serious interest in frogs from this region, I found that it is perhaps best seen in the context of a companion to the other books already available about the frogs of the same region.
In some ways this is a pity as I felt that had Marion given greater emphasis on the adult frogs, her book would have easily and effectively usurped those other publications, making the need for people new to the hobby and science to buy more than one book redundant.
Furthermore, due to the explosion in the number of excellent regional herp and specialist guides hitting the market over the last few years, it is likely that the appeal of this book outside of it's own region will also be relatively little.
However one can only hope that the publisher sells enough books to make a profit so that they and other publishers will continue to publish such excellent works and advances in our general herpetological knowledge.

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