More than most nations of the world, New Zealand has suffered from the introduction of alien species by humans, wittingly or unwittingly, with the consequent depauperation of its native flora and fauna.
Reptiles and amphibians have suffered far less than other taxa in this respect, so it was with pleasure that I received a Princeton Field Guide devoted to these animals. I was not familiar with any of the three authors of this work, but they have done a fine job, and I commend the guide they have produced. It is generously illustrated, complemented by a very informative text.
First in the coverage is the "herp" most associated with New Zealand, the Tuatara, the sole surviving member of an ancient lineage of Sphenodontid reptiles. Tuataras feature heavily in Maori culture and legend and are sometimes viewed as a repository of wisdom; gaining thus a special significance in the hearts of many New Zealanders. Healthy populations survive on offshore islands free of introduced mammalian predators.
The succeeding section covers New Zealand Geckos, with an excellent introductory text and a wonderful series of diagrams showing salient gecko characters, as well as electron microscope images of gecko lamellae. There follows a species by species account with photographs and range maps.
Next in line are the skinks, the largest taxonomic group of reptiles and amphibians in New Zealand, most of which are in the near endemic genus Oligosoma. Full coverage of every species is accompanied by photographs and range maps. Skinks are found in almost every corner of New Zealand, including most of the offshore islands, and occupy a wide range of habitats, and are therefore able to be seen by even the most casual observer.
New Zealand is home to only six species of frog, three of which, or fifty percent are non-native. The native species all belong in the genus Leiopelma, are strictly nocturnal and cryptic; therefore are generally encountered by research biologists more frequently than by the layman. All are in a precarious state at one level or another and are in need of active conservation measures. The three introduced species are from Australia, as a result of acclimatisation societies, as has often been the case around the world for organisms in many taxa. If only those nostalgic immigrants could have seen the long-term consequences of their actions!
Five species of marine turtles visit New Zealand, only one as a breeding species, but New Zealand waters are critical habitat for all five species, and the universal threat to oceanic turtles is well known, and has been the subject of intense coverage in recent years.
Four highly venomous marine snakes are found in New Zealand coastal waters, and occasionally washed up on land, but two species are frequently found basking, sometimes in large numbers, and should not be tampered with.
The book provides complete coverage of the entire assemblage of New Zealand reptiles and amphibians, with a well written text and superlative illustrations. I vigorously recommend it to anyone interested in the fauna of New Zealand, and especially for any naturalist contemplating a visit this distant land.
Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand
Dylan van Winkel, Marleen Baling and Rod Hitchmough
Paperback - US$35.00 - 9780691199504 - 368 pages - 400 colour photogrpahs - 5 1/ in. x 8 1/2"
Publication date: 25 February 2020