Book Review – Reptiles of Victoria: a guide to identification and ecology

Author: Peter Robertson and A. John Coventry
Review by Deryk Engel, Director, Lesryk Environmental Pty Ltd
Reptiles of Victoria has been produced by authors Peter Robertson and A. John Coventry as a means to provide both novices and professionals with a logical approach to Keying out that State’s species. The guide documents the 117 recognised reptiles that occur within Victoria, and an additional six that are ‘vagrant’ or introduced.

Distribution patterns of each reptile are included, these based on museum specimens and verified records submitted to accredited databases. As opposed to other field guides that shade a species’ distribution (based on a ‘join-the-dots’ approach), the distributions are shown as coloured rectangles superimposed onto a map of Victoria. These rectangles are based on an actual site where an animal has been collected/verifiably recorded. This approach produces gaps in a species’ distribution patterns, the authors acknowledging this and encouraging ‘researchers’ to submit their own findings to fill these in. The animal’s distribution is corresponded to its documented habitat type and, within the Keys themselves, comments are made such as [in Key 4.2.1. page 75] ‘central Victoria only’. This assists during the Keying out process if the researcher is located in another part of the State.

To determine the species of reptile collected, the guide includes numerous Keys that permit a reptile to initially be identified to Family level, then eventually Genus and Species. Latin names are primarily used in the Keys themselves, with the accepted common name presented atop of the description of the reptile itself. The Keys include reference to drawings of diagnostic features that a researcher should consider when endeavouring to identify a reptile. Where required, these drawings are supplemented with close up photographs of features such as scale size, colour variations and head shape and configuration. The Keys do assume that a ‘researcher’ is generally holding a reptile in their hand, which may be problematic when endeavouring to identify goannas and snakes (particularly those that are venomous).

The initial Key, Key 1, is located (hidden?) on page 32, after a section listing all of Victoria’s reptiles. Whilst the position of Key 1 is clearly identified on the Contents page, it was a bit cumbersome to locate. That stated, it can be presumed, as this Key deals with differentiating between the Turtles/Tortoises and Lizards/Snakes, that most people would be familiar with these animals and ‘jump’ to an appropriate starting Key.

Included in the descriptions of each reptile is a section that deals with similar species. This is a useful addition to a field guide, one that clearly flags features to be considered when endeavouring to differentiate between two reptiles that look the same and occur in the same habitat.

The guide is not a weighty tome, only being around 9 grams, and can easily fit in to a backpack. Its size, shape and Keys make it a useful field-based tool. The book does not have a waterproof cover. That said, a user is unlikely to be looking for and Keying out reptiles in the field during inclement weather.

This is Victoria’s first field guide that specifically addresses that State’s reptile assemblages and the identification of these. By producing this book the way they have, the authors have achieved their objective in producing a user-friendly document that can be used by both novices and professionals alike.

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