Books by JCM

In preparation – cover is tentative.

In preparation – cover is tentative.

Arizona’s Amphibians & Reptiles

Sorting 35 mm slides from trips to Arizona in the 1970-90s, I realized not only had the photographic technology undergone radical evolution, but many of the scientific names had also changed. Interest in Arizona’s herpetofauna was first stimulated by the US Army’s Pacific Railroad Surveys (1853–1855) that explored possible routes for a transcontinental railroad. The expedition’s biologists were given instructions on collecting and handling specimens, and Spencer Fullerton Baird, Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian, outfitted them. Baird and Charles Girard followed up on the specimens returned by the survey’s expeditions, and they described 30 of the 188 species and subspecies recognized in this book.

Biological knowledge has exploded since the days of Baird and Girard. Species concepts have multiplied and mutated into dozens of slightly differing ideas. The ability to sequence DNA has provided an insight that would have been considered science fiction just 50 years ago.

Along with the ability to sequence and compare genes has come the realization that biodiversity is substantially greater than previously thought. Species are constantly being split and only occasionally lumped in the 21st century. This is partly the result of the polytypic species concept that lumped populations quite different into a single species. Combined with second looks at morphology, molecular techniques redefine old species and describe new ones.

Homalopsid Snakes, Evolution in the Mud

The Oriental-Australian rear-fanged water snakes (Homalopsidae) are distributed along a northeast-southwest axis from Pakistan’s Indus River to northern Australia and the Micronesian Island of Palau. This distribution calls into question Wallaces’ statement regarding oceans as barriers to snake dispersal. While Wallace’s statement holds true for most terrestrial snakes, homalopsid snakes spend little time on land. And, while deep water seems to pose an effective barrier to their dispersal, shallow water, be it freshwater, brackish water, or saltwater, is their specialty.

The homalopsids are advanced snakes, members of the monophyletic Colubroidea, which includes six living families (Atractaspididae, Homalopsidae, Pareatidae, Colubridae, Elapidae, Viperidae) and two extinct families (Anomalophiidae, Russellophiidae). The sister group of Colubroidea is the family Acrochordidae, the highly aquatic file snakes, and together these form the advanced snakes, the Caenophidians.

Much remains to be learned about homalopsid snakes, and, despite more than 12 years of research by FMNH workers and others, the number of homalopsid snake species and genera is still unclear. The 38 species discussed here may be only half of the species that exist. There is at least one undescribed genus at the time of this writing. Of the ten genera discussed here, seven are currently considered monotypic; this is misleading because several appear to be cryptic species complexes. Additionally, the most specious genus, Enhydris, contains several species that appear to be composed of multiple taxa. See Murphy and Voris (2014) for an updated taxonomy.

Published in 1997, this was the only book dealing with the entire herpetofauna of Trinidad and Tobago, covering 130 species and subspecies, the two islands’ environment, and the herpetofauna’s natural history. The volume contains illustrated keys, 111 range maps, 101 line drawings and figures, and 172 color photographs. While much of the information is dated today, some are still useful. This was updated in 2018 with the next volume.

A Field Guide To The Amphibians & Reptiles
Of Trinidad & Tobago

Curiosity is a fundamental requirement for exploration and science. Stories can make us curious, and the herpetofauna of Trinidad and Tobago has more than its share of interesting and colorful stories that can be used to engage the curious child or adult. Or perhaps more importantly, those stories can be used to stimulate curiosity in the incurious.

Consider the story of the anaconda known as “Big Annie,” She was collected on Trinidad and sent to Raymond Ditmars at the Bronx Zoo by Trinidad newspaper reporter and herpetologist Richard R. Mole. Annie grew to more than 18 feet, became pregnant, and had her babies distributed to zoos all over the world. A couple of scientific question arises from this story. Did Big Annie meet a male anaconda in the wilds of Trinidad or the zoo and store his sperm, or did she produce her young by asexual means after spending years alone in the zoo? Snakes can do this.

Giant Snakes A Natural History examines what science has discovered about giant snakes and some of their relatives. Reticulated pythons are still eating humans in the 21st century. Snakes have the ability to reproduce with or without sperm. large pythons and boas can eat meals equal to their body weight because they have evolved the ability to grow their digestive organs very quickly. The book contains numerous other recent discoveries about these interesting snakes.

Tales of Giant Snakes

We examined the literature on giant snakes extending back to the 16th century. Filtered it for repetitions and language and compiled a manuscript that provided clues to the natural history of the snakes that exceed 20 feet or 6.1 meters in length. We used quotes and translations to tell the stories of the people writing about these giant serpents.


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