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Book Review: Biology of Amphibians (William Duellman and Linda Trueb)

Otterwoman

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Biology of Amphibians by William Duellman and Linda Trueb (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, 1994), 670 pp.

All right, I'm going to review this book. It's rather ironic that I should be giving my opinion on a book like this; I, a lowly neophyte hobbyist, who am not worthy of siphoning the detritus from the aquaria in the authors' basements, nay, even of cleaning out the tanks of their feeder cultures, nor even of collecting the springtails to feed their morphs; nevertheless in my humble arrogance I shall try to write something that will let you decide for yourself if this book is worth your while. Short answer: it may or may not be, depending on your level of knowledge and the desired level of knowledge you wish to attain, whether you are easily bored or put off by big words, and how much money you have to spend on books.

There is no doubt that this is an excellent, deep, scientific, and worthy tome (and if you don't know that word, I say, pack up the picnic now, 'cause it looks like rain).
For the average hobbyist, I can sum this book up in one word: TMI *. This is a thorough, extensive and exhaustive biological treatise on amphibian biology. Parts of it were absorbing for me, for ex., the diagram of the courtship dance of Triturus vulgaris, and even the diagram of different types of tadpole mouths according to what they eat. Under defense postures, they included a picture of a snake that knots its tail around its head as a defense--making it too big to swallow.

The dictionary does not exist wherein you could look up many of the words found in the book; many of them can't even be googled (I know this because I tried). But if I could read James Joyce's Ulysses, I could certainly plow my way through this, which at least might have real-life relevance. However, both of these books, ultimately, were not written for the average layman, but for the professionals of each respective field. In my opinion, Stebbins' & Cohen's book is all one really needs. [A Natural History of Amphibians, by Robert C. Stebbins and Nathan W. Cohen (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1995), 316 pp and not yet reviewed!)]
I love to mark up my books. In fact, I have even written (what I consider to be) witty and insightful comments in library books. I am a huge fan of a well-placed jibe, observation, or sarcastic comment. I once found a comment in a Loeb edition of The Odyssey that was so funny I had to xerox it and distribute it to my whole Ancient Greek class, including the professor (at a wallet-breaking 3 copies).
While I was reading this book, here are some of the things I felt moved to scribble in the margins:
"Help!" "Eeek!" "Help me, Kermit!" (especially in the frog sections). "I feel like an otter in a leg-hold trap!" "What's a nice comp lit major like you doing in a book like this?" "Still better than James Joyce's Ulysses."
Over a picture of two newts in amplexus: "You will smell my underarm until you love me" (see picture below).

And as for some of the vocabulary, I started a list in the back cover of words to look up, many of which I never found:
pedicellate (p. 2) , atresic (p.16) phallodeum (p. 77) ammonotelic (p. 120) polyspermy (p.139) Urodelarium (ok, I made that one up myself, and I'm still hoping it'll catch on), parthenopaedogenesis (p.190) stegokrotaphic, zygokrotaphic, gymnokrotaphic (p. 304), prezygapophyses and postzygapophyses (p. 324) (it was around here that comments such as these appeared in the margins: "Dr. Seuss is certainly an uncredited author of this book"), ectochordal, holochordal, stegochordal, perichordal, epichordal (take my word, they appear in there), and, my favorite, caudalipuboischiotibialis (this one is a muscle, and next time I call in sick to work, I'm going to say it's because I pulled mine).

Another version of the sarcastic comment that I enjoy is when I find something bizarre to laugh at. I guess this would be akin to a private joke shared only by me. There were many dry sentences of serious scientific merit that I could only stare at in wonder that I should find myself to be in a postition to read them willingly. Often I would underline them, in case one day I'm in desperate need of a laugh and the only thing handy is my copy of this book.
Here is an example of such a sentence out of this book (and it is also a good representative of what the reader is in for): “The dentary is synostotically united with the mentomeckelians anteriorly and extends along the lateral and ventral surfaces of Meckel’s cartilage” (p. 299).

On the other hand, here are some terms from the book that I loved, and can't wait to find a situation where I can add them to my active vocabulary and drop them into a sentence: "gape-limited predation" (p.166); salamander larvae are "evolutionary prisoners" (p.171) and also "evolutionarily sterile" (p. 453), and finally, the intriguing phrase "the load-bearing capacity of the extended tongue" (238).

So I'll admit most of the book was way beyond my needs and beyond my level of preparation. With some chapters, it became not an issue of what parts I didn't understand, but rather, "ooh! Here's a sentence I DO understand!"

I hope no one thinks that I am being negative about this book at all. I'm only disappointed that my background in biology isn't strong enough to have gotten more out of it, even though I'm a nurse and took a little biology in college. In fact, how many of you are professionals in the field and are ROFL at the idea of a layman reading this book? This book is the Real Thing and I suspect even a well-qualified herp vet doesn't need to know half of the info in this book (I would welcome a herp vet to chime in here--Ray?).

I hope that anyone out there who has read this book will please add something to this thread.

A pricey read, it’s available on Amazon used from $21.94 and new from $40.46. Actually, I think that used price is a record low, and if anyone is interested in the book, I'd say, snap it up now!

-----------------
* TMI: Not really a word, but an acronym for "Too Much Information."
 

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SludgeMunkey

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I can think of quite a few people I wish were evolutionarily sterile.

As for gape predation, this is when bugs end up in your mouth while riding a motorbike or convertible top car, correct?

Abystomids in a Ferrari!?!?

Sounds like a hefty read.....on to the Amazon list it goes!


:smile:
 

Otterwoman

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Gape predation means you're limited to the size of the things you can eat by how big you can open your mouth...in my case, as big as a cheesecake.
 

Kaysie

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Your wife, she sounds very wise.

Dawn, I know someone who has this book. I glanced through it, freaked out that I didn't know anything about biology, and then changed my major to comparative literature. ;)
 

Otterwoman

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I actually started out as a biology major, but I couldn't deal with chemistry. I was also taking calculus. I was freaking out and visited home, and told my Dad this. He sat me on his knee and said, "Son, you don't have to be a scientist to understand the world. History only repeats itself. If you take Latin and Greek, you can learn to understand the world that way too." So I went back to college and started taking languages.
The text books for calculus and Ancient Greek looked pretty much the same. They used the same alphabet, anyway.

[He didn't really take me on his knee or call me "Son," but I like to tell the story that way.]
 

SludgeMunkey

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I started out as an art major, then switched to biology, then dropped out. Then I started up again as a biology major with a minor in entomology and dropped out. Then iI went for Special effects makeup specializing in prosthesis and dropped out. Took a few years off and the Navy made an electronics major out of me. So I finished that degree, and then went back as a biology major again, this time trying to take both icthyology and herpetology. Ended up dumping that for Military Science, combat systems. Finished that and became a maintenance guy in a box factory.

Finally, my father explained to me that I might as well stay a maintenance guy, as industrial techs thrive when they know a little bit about everything, or at least think they do...:dizzy:
 

Otterwoman

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You can imagine how proud my family is that their eldest, who spent a total of 15 years in college earning a PhD, is now a prison nurse tending to the worst types of felons.
 

SludgeMunkey

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:eek:

I feel your pain there. The Erie Youth Artist of the Year Six years straight is afraid to show his face at Class reunions as he turned out to be a sludge...I mean...grease monkey...
 

Otterwoman

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Oh, and don't forget the good marriage I made and the many fine children I have produced...and there you are, the pride and pinnacle of a long and documented lineage. Talk about being "evolutionarily sterile."
 

Darkmaverick

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Hi Dawn,

I haven't actually read this book, but judging from the examples of quoted sentences, i would say this book is not really suitable for the average hobbyist. The writing style is very similar to a vet textbook and has profound hypnotic mind-numbing effect. I find that the way it is written is a tad too pompous and convoluted even for professionals. It is definitely very informative but would not be the first book i would reach out for reference in a clinical setting.

Cheers.
 

jaster

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I liked the review and had a nice chuckle at many of the replies (I am in the library though...)

My herpetology professor calls this book the "Bible". I have poked around in it a bit and it does have a TON of information, but it helped me get everything I need to know about amphibian skulls down and a decent head ache :/

It would be nice to have on the shelves.
 
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