Book Report

Peterson Field Guides. Western Reptiles and Amphibians, by Dr. Robert C. Stebbins

Peterson Field Guides. Western Reptiles and Amphibians, by Dr. Robert C. Stebbins. sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation. Newly revised and in full color. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston and New York . 533pp. $22.

You almost stepped on a snake! Oh dear! Could you tell, was it a Baja night snake, or perhaps a Baja California rattlesnake?

What is the difference between those two snakes? What if the snake you almost stepped on, was partially hidden by tall grass? Both of these reptiles have mean looking faces, and somewhat similar spots. Reading this guide will help you identify the many regional species of reptiles and amphibians, and the answer to the above question can be found on plate 56, under Baja California “endemics”. Knowing how to identify snakes could be a lifesaving skill.  We do not have many venomous snakes, but it is comforting to know that you can at least identify those to stay away from.

Here, in this Peterson Field Guide is everything you could ever need to know about the creatures I once thought of as creepy crawlers. My youngest daughter’s fascination with toads, then living in a New Mexico desert and now here in Baja, has given me greater respect and a certain fascination with reptiles and amphibians. This guide gave me a wealth of information I didn’t already know.

Of course, Peterson Field guides already have a great reputation for the facts and research they present, they are published in many areas, and the author of this book, Dr. Robert C. Stebbins, comes also with a sterling resume. He is emeritus professor of zoology and emeritus curator of herpetology at the Museum of Vertebrae Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, has traveled extensively and published many books and articles, spending more than 60 years studying and drawing amphibians and reptiles. The Peterson Guide is equally valuable for students and for general public information.

This book is full of help for the reader: line drawings of unique body parts of various amphibians and reptiles, many colored photos, and a wealth of information that is also quite readable. A unique feature can be found in the back, just preceding the bibliography, (which contains general references, regional references and journals). Dr. Stebbins has included range maps, a few in black and white and 36 pages of maps in brilliant colors. These maps show the ranges of each of the reptiles and amphibians described in the Field Guide and it contains a key to the map symbols.

The black line drawings are clear and detailed, and can be found throughout the book. The introduction contains areas covered and hints on how best to use the book. Chapter 2 ; Making Captures, gives instructions on picking up those that can simply be picked up, and comes with a warning about the gila monster, coral snake, and rattlers that should, of course, be left in peace. He then goes on to explain tracking, night driving, and appropriate containers for specimens. Chapters three and four describe field studies and give additional keys to identification, again with detailed drawings.

The main body of this guide, however, focuses on the colored plates, beginning with salamanders, newts, then toads and frogs; (including spade foot toads and tree toads), all colors and species, and next, turtles. I have a fascination for these wonderful creatures, and the differences between sea turtles and desert tortoises, and their shell markings are great material for many native legends and children’s fables. The opposite page of each plate has brief descriptions and locations, and then gives page numbers for more information and maps.

There are many more exotic amphibians than you can imagine. The horned lizards look like miniature dinosaurs, and of course we also have night lizards and skinks, whiptails, and alligator lizards. The last full page plates are of western snakes, with much information, which I have already mentioned. Full descriptions, habits, unique sounds, more colored photos including a small colored photo of a Western skink, who has a bright blue tail that can be left behind if seized by a predator. The range of each species follows the plate

On page 419, the author writes about “ Baja California “endemics”. Browse through the rest of the book, but do completely read this section! Did you know that 96 species of reptiles and amphibians, (all described in this book),’ occur in Baja California, and that 18 of these are endemic ( found only here)? He also admits that studying the reptiles and amphibians in Baja has been quite difficult, easier since Highway I was built, but that still, many more research studies need to be conducted.

This Peterson Field Guide is not only informational and useful, it is a read that will cause you to marvel at how many very different reptiles and amphibians can be found here in the desert, and an idea of the great diversity of the many species.

The Peterson Field Guide of Western Reptiles and Amphibians can be found in bookstores and on After reading this guide, I have decided that I need to start my own library with as many different Field Guides as I can find! I found that reading the guide took a little of the mystery and much of my fear  away and gave me a greater respect and fascination for these many creatures that share our planet! This guide is available at my book store in Loreto, El Caballo Blanco, for $22.(