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Old 20th May 2008   #1
Wes von Papineäu
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Default Book Review: Newts of the British Isles by Patrick Wisniewski

Wisniewski, Patrick, J. Newts of the British Isles. Shire Publications Ltd., Aylesbury UK 1989. 24 pp, ISBN 0747800294

I have a distinct fondness for this book, and the late Mr. Wisniewski … whom I never did have the opportunity to meet.

While training at Ashford Base in the UK in the spring of 1992, I learned that the garrison limits encompassed a small pond, complete with Triturus cristatus. Even then the Crested Newts were a protected species, having their own area and an assigned staff sergeant that looked in on their welfare from time to time … if only to collect them out of the water-filled obstacle course before the troops started their morning PT. Once I actually saw my first Crested male in all his finny (is that a word?) glory, I just had to know more. After a short visit to a small bookshop in a near-by town … I had my first book about newts.

This short work is divided into eight sections. The ‘Introduction’ covers the place of Amphibians within vertebrate history and then goes onto describe the three Orders that we’re familiar with today. However, it’s the snippets on ‘newts in mythology’ that give the book most of it’s initial charm … the highlight of which that in a certain part of Great Britain, newts were long ago known as ‘man-eater’. (p. 2)

‘British Newts’ describes in some detail the three native species (and alludes to some imports). Also included are easy to use identification charts for the three … as adults, larvae … and eggs.

‘Where newts Live’ covers in detail the preferred habitat for each species including pH, water movement, surface and submerged vegetation, shade ... and a shared desire for having no fish as neighbours. Hibernation, hibernacula and in-pond hibernation are also addressed, as are a comparison of the ‘route marches’ that each species undertakes with the change of spring and autumn seasons.

‘Matrimonials’ covers the … well, everything actually. Starting with descriptions and charts of the ‘newt dance of luv’, the author follows with spermatophore transfer, favoured egg-bed plant types and temperatures, and discusses variations that occur with albinism and neotony.

‘Food’ … yes, everything that newts eat in nature and the differences in prey types preferred by each species. Oh yes, 14-25% of a newt’s diet could be plant matter! (Paris… look-away now) “Crested newts will quite readily eat other newts, including adult smooths” (p.20)

‘Threats and Mortality’ include a discussion of the merits of protective camouflage, aposmatic colouration, skin secretions and good old ‘running away’. Carnivores liking newts are listed … and a long list it is, followed up by the various parasites and diseases that prefer to have their newt served from the inside out. Survivability in nature is grim. The small ray of sunshine offered is contained in a brief description of the newt’s varying ability to ‘regrow’ damaged limbs … and organs.

‘Conservation’ ends the chapters … and here Mr. Wisniewski shows his personal sympathy for his chosen charges. He describes how newts came to be protected with UK law, how they are being ‘scientifically monitored’, what was being done at the time (the late 1980’s) to protect remaining populations … and importantly, what individual citizens could do to ensure that there would be newts around for a long time to come. His list of references for his book reads like a ‘who’s who in the newt pond’ for that decade.

In summary, notwithstanding that the book is over a quarter century old, this work remains an excellent primer for herpetologists interested in newts in the UK, but has plenty of details that would prove useful for the newt-keeping herpetoculturist trying to set up the most 'realistic' vivarium possible. It is lovingly written, well supported by clear and colourful photographs and charts, and more importantly for us, easily read and understood. Though I purchased this book as a ‘jumping off’ point for my modest studies of Triturus, there is no doubt that the work will retain significant interest and value for me as a newt-reference for years to come.
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Wes von Papineäu
Gloucester, Canada

= = = = =
ORMSKIRK CHAMPION (UK) 13 May 08 Martin Mere staff mourn loss of Pat Wisniewski.
http://www.champnews.com/html/newsstory.asp?id=6688

LANCASHIRE EVENING POST (UK) 15 May 08 Boss of wildlife haven dies at 53
http://www.lep.co.uk/news/Boss-of-wi...ies.4086889.jp

Shire Natural History Books: http://www.shirebooks.co.uk/Natural/natural-bl.htm {I do NOT have stock or interest in this company!! But perhaps I should.}



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Old 20th May 2008   #2
Caleb Leeke
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Default Re: Book Review: Newts of the British Isles by Patrick Wisniewski

Very sad to hear that Pat Wisniewski has died.

He was extremely adept at breeding amphibians- he bred species in the 1980s that are still rarely bred today.

Despite being an herpetological amateur, he was involved in captive breeding projects for a number of endangered species- he was convinced that amateur herpetologists really could contribute to conservation.

I contacted him out of the blue a couple of times to ask advice on my animals, and he went out of his way to help me.

I did visit his collection once, as part of a YHC trip that I helped to supervise- his animals were astounding.

And yes, the book is well worth getting, even for those mostly interested in newts in captivity- and it's only a couple of quid!



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