Monday, June 17, 2024

Wahlgreniana Volume 3

Volume 3—June 2024 Moriarty, John J. and Aaron M. Bauer. 2024. State and Provincial Amphibian and Reptile Publications For the United States and Canada, Second Edition. ISHBH, Salt Lake City, vi., 85 pp. Paperback, ISBN: 979-8-218-44771-7. Retail: $20.00; ISHBH members $12.00. Postage is additional.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(7)

Dodd, C. K. Jr. 2024. Women in Herpetology — A Short Biography of Mary Hewes Hinckley. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(7):74–80.

In the introduction to all three editions of Anna and Albert Wright’s Handbook of Frogs and Toads of the United States and Canada, the authors dedicate the book to four women who “…have in the last half-century contributed most notably to the study of this group.” Among them was Mary Hewes Hinckley (6 April 1845 – 5 June 1944), who would have been 88 when the first edition of Frogs was published. Relatively little information is available on this remarkable woman, despite the recognition she was accorded by the Wrights. She was honored by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) at the recommendation of Albert H. Wright when the Society unanimously passed a resolution to “send our greetings to two great herpetologists—Mary H. Hinckley and Leonhard Stejneger” at the annual meeting in 1940 in Toronto. Here, I present some background information on Mary, discuss the importance of her observations on frogs in the late 19th Century, and identify the potential location of her one named study site.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(6)

Dodd, C. K. Jr. 2024. The Hermit Naturalist, A Nearly Forgotten Snake Story. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(6):71–73.

In 1899, a writer named Fred. Alexander Lucas published a short book that told the tale of a lonely hermit living on an island in the Delaware River who had immigrated from Sicily. One frosty autumn morning in 1893, the story goes, the narrator, identified only as Fritz, was fishing on the river when he saw a man fall in. The narrator quickly rows to the man in the water and pulls him into his boat. They retire to the man’s cabin on the nearby island to dry off, whereupon the Old Hermit shows him around and begins to recount his tale. The Old Hermit, identified as “the Count,” was well off living in a fine home with a beautiful young daughter. He spent his days rambling in the countryside studying natural history. One day, returning from his nature hike, he found his daughter was missing, having been abducted by brigands. He discovered that one of the brigands had sailed for America with his young captive. Determined to find his daughter, he came to America in search of her, but without success. In quiet desperation, he had settled on this remote island in hopes of one day resuming his search. Then The Hermit Naturalist turns to snakes.

Chapter 2 is devoted entirely to describing the life histories of snakes: how they live, their senses, how they feed, shedding, defensive behavior, breeding, hibernation, and the myth of snake charming. Chapter 3 is devoted to the life history of local snakes. The life history of these species is described by the Count to Fritz, but with little direct connection to the Hermit’s life story; it is strictly snake biology. For 1899, the information is remarkably accurate and strictly within the realm of knowledge at that time. The source of the information is not provided. There were no summaries of snake biology available for New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the late 1890s, and an examination of DeKay (1842), Hopley (1882), Abbott (1888), and the observations of Harold C. Bumpus published in Natural History Notes (1884–1886) offer no clues as to the source of the Count’s stories.

Chapter 4 provides a happy ending to the Hermit’s quest. On a natural history ramble through the forest the following spring, Fritz stumbles across a beautiful young girl sitting on a bench on a bluff near the sanitorium where she worked. Fritz realizes who she is and reunites her with her long-lost father. In time, Fritz marries the girl, and presumably they all live happily ever after.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(5)

Bauer, A. M. , R. Powell and A. H. Griffing. 2024. Two Largely Forgotten Early Sources on the Fer-de-Lance of Martinique, Bothrops lanceolatus. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(5):60–70.

Bothrops lanceolatus, the Martinique Lancehead, commonly called the “Fer-de-Lance”, is a large pitviper of both medical importance and conservation concern. The species was described by La Cépède (1789), but because names in this work were ruled by the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature to be unavailable, most subsequent authors have attributed authorship to Bonnaterre (1790), who used La Cépède’s name (Coluber lanceolatus) and repeated his content. The sources for information about the Fer-de-Lance available to La Cépède and Bonnaterre were limited.

La Cépède (1789) cited four specific sources: Rochefort (1667), unpublished communications from [Barthélemy de] Badier, and two contributions from the Nouvelles de la République des Lettres et des Arts, one (the Mémoire) with no identified author and the other (the Lettre) by M. Bonodet de Foix (1786).

Bonnaterre (1790) introduced new information communicated to him from an unpublished manuscript by the French Minim friar Charles Plumier by the noted Berlin physician and ichthyologist Marcus Eliesar Bloch, La Cépède (1789) and Rochefort (1667), and the Mémoire and Lettre, for which he gave only the year of publication (1786), as did La Cépède (1789).

After Bonnaterre, the publications in Nouvelles de la République des Lettres et des Arts were widely cited for nearly a century, while in the last 145 years we found mentions of Bonodet only in de Lalung (1934), a short book on the Fer-de-Lance, and Dewynter et al. (2023), a modern work on the herpetofauna of Martinique. Nothing in any of these works, though, suggests that the authors subsequent to La Cépède actually consulted an original copy of the Nouvelles de la République des Lettres et des Arts.

Because these two elusive papers in the Nouvelles de la République des Lettres et des Arts were apparently critical sources informing the early literature of the Fer-de-Lance, we undertook to consult them directly (perhaps for the first time in well over two centuries) to clarify how much of La Cépède’s (1789) account, and those of others, depended on the information they provided. We here present a translation of these key early works on the Fer-de-Lance, along with biographical information about Bonodet de Foix, bibliographic data about Nouvelles de la République des Lettres et des Arts, and an evaluation of both the veracity and the significance of statements about the Serpent de la Martinique made by Bonodet and the anonymous author of the Mémoire.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(4)

Bell, C. J., and T. J. LaDuc. 2024. Hermon Carey Bumpus and the Reptiles and Batrachians of Rhode Island, with Comments on Other Herpetological Content in Random Notes on Natural History, 1884–1886. Bibliotheca Herpetologica, Vol. 18(4):44–59. Published online April 24, 2024.

Random Notes on Natural History was a short-lived serial publication that appeared in the late 1800s, persisted for a few years and was then discontinued. It was published in Providence, Rhode Island as monthly issues in three volumes from January 1884 through December 1886. The inaugural issue noted that the serial was “a pamphlet devoted to the distribution of useful knowledge concerning the various departments of zoology, mineralogy, and botany.” It also carried contributions dedicated to geology, methods in taxidermy, biographical notes on naturalists, and news of local and regional science societies.

It was Hermon Bumpus’s series on the herpetology of Rhode Island that drew us to the journal. His was the earliest attempted summary of the herpetofauna of that state and was the most important of the herpetological contributions published in Random Notes on Natural History. We provide a biographical sketch of Bumpus and his contributions to science and museology, an overview of his contribution to the herpetology of Rhode Island, and a brief notice of other herpetological content that appeared in Random Notes on Natural History.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(3)

Rösler, H., P. Daszkiewicz, I. Ineich & W. Böhme 2024. Lacertulus minimus variegatus Plumier – a pre-Linnean description of a remarkable gecko (Gekkota: Sphaerodactylidae: Sphaerodactylus) from Haiti (Greater Antilles). Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(3):36–43. Published April 12, 2024.

Charles Plumier, a priest of the Minims religious order, was a pioneer of botany in the West Indies at the end of the 17th century. He authored numerous zoological drawings and detailed descriptions, such as those on fish or crocodile anatomy. Many authors have subsequently used his manuscripts for their own publications and descriptions of new taxa. Among his botanical plates is a watercolor insert of a small lizard which he described and named Lacertulus minimus variegatus in a separate manuscript. Although coined prior to the adoption of the Linnean nomenclature, this nomen was used by subsequent authors and we determine its identification here. We conclude that this watercolor and the description later attached to it correspond to the endemic Haitian taxon Sphaerodactylus elegans punctatissimus. This means that the watercolor of Lacertulus minimus variegatus is probably the first pictorial representation of a species of this speciose genus.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(2)

Krecsák, L. 2024. Hans Strøm’s Norwegian Asp Viper (Coluber aspis): a misdiagnosed 18th century Vipera berus. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(2):30—35. Published March 11, 2024.

In the twelfth edition of Systema Naturae, Carl Linnaeus added a specimen described by Hans Strøm to his listing of Coluber aspis. The aim of this paper is to discuss the background, description, and details of this misidentified Vipera berus specimen described by the prominent Norwegian naturalist Hans Strøm from Sunnmøre in western Norway, together with a short biography of Strøm.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(1)

Bettelheim, M. P. 2024. Het Schildpadboeck: The Origins and Inspiration Behind the Turtle Watercolors of Adriaen Coenen’s Visboeck and Walvisboeck. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 18(1):1-29. Published March 2, 2024.

During the late European Renaissance period, the son of a Dutch fisherman in the Netherlands began a curious undertaking: a stunning series of detailed watercolor illustrations of fish, sea mammals, and other marine creatures of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. In the years that followed, he would eventually incorporate these folios into at least three illustrated manuscripts, of which only two have survived to this day.

Although these watercolor folios were well received at the time, even if only by the limited audience they reached, they were otherwise left to gather dust until contemporary academics once again revisited these neglected works with new eyes.

Among the treasures waiting to be rediscovered in these watercolor illustrations were a handful of turtles. Some of these are bona fide turtles; others merely fanciful. What makes Coenen’s work so special is that he was a “fisherman” first and foremost whose academic prowess was accidental, if not incidental, to the works he produced.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Teaching Children to Read: Herpetology in the Unit Study Book Series

Fig. 1. The Story of Frogs.
Cover. Mary Belle Herring, 1935.

From the mid-1930s through the late 1940s, American Education Press, Columbus, Ohio, best known as publisher of My Weekly Reader (later Weekly Reader) from 1928 to 2012, issued a series of booklets designed to assist elementary school teachers in encouraging children to improve their reading skills while learning interesting facts about the world around them; 80 were listed as available as of 1935. The short booklets were titled Unit Study Books, with each featuring a different topic that covered everything from the Romans to coal, corn, and money. Booklets had orange or blue covers and were non-consecutively numbered. Covers were mostly uniform in design (see Fig. 1), but later reprintings or issues sometimes had different covers from the original format.

The booklets varied in style by author, with some concentrating solely on facts and others conveying information by way of storytelling. They were written specifically for elementary school children, with the 100–600 numbers in the series indicating suitability for grades 1 to 6. The inside cover provides the teacher with an outline of generalizations to be learned and the important elements that the children should grasp after reading the booklet.

Frogs and reptiles are featured in two of the Unit Study Books, but only The Story of Frogs focused entirely on herpetology (Figs. 1–4). The Story of Frogs (Unit Study Book No. 351, published in 1935) consists of 36 pages that tells the story of a tadpole as it hatches and grows from an egg to a tadpole to an adult. The booklet is subdivided into several short stories of a few pages each covering the various stages in a frog’s life, each with a quiz or exercise at the end that children can pencil-in to show they have understood the lesson. The booklet is well-written, accurate, and I suspect would have been entertaining for a young child of that era.

Fig. 2. Inside cover of The Story of Frogs explaining the lessons to be learned (left) and the first story in the booklet, Tiny Tad (right).

Fig. 3. From Pollywog to Frog in The Story of Frogs.

The Story of Frogs was written by Mary Belle Herring (2 December 1897–9 April 1987) of Rockingham, North Carolina. Ms. Herring is listed on the booklet as associated with the Elementary Schools of Raleigh. Mary Belle Herring was orphaned early in life, but was educated at Littleton College, a Methodist college for young women in Littleton, North Carolina, where her sister was Treasurer. It appears that she spent her entire career as a teacher and never married; in the early 1950s, she was teaching third grade at L.J. Bell Elementary School in Rockingham. A former student remembered her as loving books and reading—which she highly encouraged—and as a founder of a book club at the school. She used to bring in copies of The Weekly Reader for her students. The Weekly Reader also was published by American Education Press, which perhaps led to her interest in writing The Story of Frogs. Why she chose to write about frogs is unknown, but she did an excellent job of getting her facts correct and presenting them in an entertaining fashion that would appeal to her pupils. She did not write any other titles in the Unit Study Book series.

Fig. 4. A lesson at the end of a frog story. Note the child’s faint writing.


The text is supplemented by black and white illustrations and photos of frogs and their ecological interactions, from prey to defense. Some of the photos are credited to L.W. Brownell, a nature photographer known for his books Photography for the Sportsman Naturalist (1904, MacMillan Publishing, New York) and Natural History with a Camera (1942, Photographic Publishing Co., Boston). Brownell also published short articles on natural history, which he illustrated himself (e.g. The Birth of a Butterfly, The Strand Magazine, 1903). The illustrations are uncredited in The Story of Frogs but have a “B” in the corner, perhaps suggesting Brownell provided them as well.

Fig. 5. Protection in Nature. Cover. Gaynelle Davis, 1935.


The only other booklet in the Unit Study Book series that mentions herps is No. 352, Protection in Nature, by Gaynelle Davis (Figs. 5–6). Also published in 1935 and with 36 pages, Protection in Nature includes examples of the ways animals and plants protect themselves, but it does not tell a story, instead presenting just the facts, sometimes in a bit disjointed manner as it jumps from example to example throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. It also does not include quizzes or reading exercises, except for a short “Things To Do” section at the end of the booklet. Brief mention is made of poison in snakes (somewhat misleadingly, as there are more than four venomous snakes in the United States), spines on horned lizards, and turtle shells. The presentation is not as imaginative and effective as in The Story of Frogs, and the text comes across as somewhat dull (at least to me!). Gaynelle Davis (7 October 1899–26 May 1992) is listed as a faculty member at Fort Hays State College in Hays, Kansas. In a commencement exercise in 1969, she was listed as an Emeritus faculty member.

Fig. 6.  Rattlesnake illustration and text suggesting that snakes use poison as a weapon in Protection in Nature.


For information on and photo of Mary Belle Herring, see:

Smith, Ken. Undated. Rockingham Memories. L. J. Bell Elementary & The Original 1952–1953 Faculty (in collaboration with Dr. David Huneycutt (RHS ’62).   

            [Accessed 14 February 2024]


Submitted by: C. Kenneth Dodd, Jr.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Bibliotheca Herpetologica Volume 17 print edition

Hard copy copies of volume 17 just arrived and we will begin mailing these to members today. A PDF of the front matter can be downloaded here


Thursday, December 14, 2023

Herpetology in Catherine Cooper Hopley’s Non-Herpetological Books

Catherine Cooper Hopley (1817–1911) is best known herpetologically as the author of the first popular book in the English language on snakes (Snakes. Curiosities & Wonders of Serpent Life. 1882. Griffith and Farran, London) and for a summary of British amphibians and reptiles (British Reptiles and Batrachians, Swan Sonnenschein & Co. London. 3 editions-1888, 1893, 1911). Her herpetological contributions were reviewed by Adler (2007. Contributions to the History of Herpetology, Volume 2, SSAR, St. Louis, Missouri, pp. 110–111; 2014. Contributions to the History of Herpetology, Volume 1–revised and expanded, SSAR, Ithaca, New York, p. 165) and Anon (1893. “Snakes!” A chat with Miss Catherine C. Hopley. The Sketch, 20 September 1893, pp. 115–116; Fig. 1), which includes the only known illustration of her. In addition to these books, Hopley wrote several other books describing her travels in North America prior to and during the American Civil War. Hopley was a Southern sympathizer, and her books clearly reflect racist attitudes toward slaves (e.g., Life in the South by a Blockaded British Subject, 2 volumes, 1863. Chapman and Hall, London). Her book Stories of Red-Men (Undated [1872], Religious Tract Society, London) offers a cringe-worthy depiction of Indigenous Peoples and their culture and celebrated the alleged superiority of white, Christian, Europeans.

Fig. 1. An interview with Catherine Hopley, with an illustration of her at just shy of 76 years of age, appeared in The Sketch, 20 September 1893.

Herpetological observations in three of Hopley’s books are non-existent (“Stonewall” Jackson, Late General of the Confederate States Army, Chapman and Hall, London. 1863; Aunt Jenny’s American Pets, Griffith and Ferran, London. Undated [1872]) or trivial. In Stories of Red-Men, Hopley relates a story whereby Chief Powhatan of Tidewater Virginia wore snake skins on his arms and legs. Later, she recounts a story in which an unfriendly chief of a New England tribe sent a quiver made of rattlesnake skin full of arrows to New England colonists as a threat. The colonists returned the quiver filled with gunpowder and shot. The origin of the stories is not stated, although it seems likely that Indigenous peoples wore and made items of rattlesnake skin.

Fig. 2. Title page of Rambles and Adventures in the Wilds of the West, undated [1872]

. In Rambles and Adventures in the Wilds of the West (Religious Trace Society, London. Undated [1872]; Fig. 2), Hopley recounts incidents during her travels in Ohio and the Florida Panhandle. This book is much more natural history-oriented based on Hopley’s first-hand observations. Most of her remarks are focused on plants and birds, but several pages (32–44) are devoted to an incident featuring a rattlesnake. When her coach broke down in Ohio, Hopley and her friend Katie took the opportunity to examine the local vegetation. A young boy saw a track in the road and claimed that it was a rattlesnake track that he could follow. No rattlesnake was found initially. Still, this possibility elicited fear in the women, whereby Hopley claimed to be “in terror of rattlesnakes” as she scrambled back to her coach. Later, the boy shows Hopley and Katie the body of a large rattlesnake he dispatched near the log upon which they had sat, and Hopley relates that it was only by the good graces of the Heavenly Father that she and Katie had an “escape from death.” After the 4-foot snake was dispatched, the young boy picked it up so that “the forked tongue was just visible through the half-open mouth. Emblem of sin! We shrank away shuddering at it, and at thoughts of the death so near to us.” He threw it in a pond where “the venom could do no harm.” Hopley accurately described the rattle, but noted that it was “connected to the body by a skin, or membrane, which can be cut without causing pain to the reptile.” Sitting on a log later that night, she states that there was no worry of rattlesnakes then, since they had “retired to their nests for the night.” The story was accompanied by a figure of a rattlesnake head (Fig. 3). Clearly, her attitudes and interest had changed by the following decade.

Fig. 3. Rattlesnake head.

Rambles and Adventures in the Wilds of the West, page 43. Only two other mentions of reptiles are in this book. In the chapter entitled Ohitona, Hopley describes a prairie dog town, accompanied by an illustration containing two snakes (p. 70; Fig. 4). She never actually saw a prairie dog town (not in Ohio!). The account was based on a friend of her friend Harry’s visit to one (the friend had given Harry a pet prairie dog which he showed to Hopley). She describes a prairie dog’s town and habits, presumably based on Harry’s friend’s observations, but there is no reference as to the origin of the illustration. Later in the book (p. 121), Hopley noted an incident in Florida where a friend grabs a beautiful green lizard (likely Anolis carolinensis) that sheds its tail upon escape. She noted the ease at which these lizards regenerate their tails and limbs with, she claims, no adverse effects.

Fig. 4. Depiction of a prairie dog town featuring two snakes (far left, center) from Rambles and Adventures in the Wilds of the West, page 70.

In the decades following her American travels, Hopley became fascinated with reptiles and extended her interest to writing about them factually without the hyperbole shown in her earlier accounts. Whether she evolved in her attitudes towards non-white, non-European, non-Christians is another matter and offers an unfavorable glimpse into Anglo-American society of the mid to late 19th Century. A notice of Catherine Hopley’s death appeared in The Globe of 1 May 1911. She was hailed as “The Globe’s oldest contributor” (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Notice of the death of Catherine Hopley. The Globe of 1 May 1911, page 6.

Submitted by: C. Kenneth Dodd, Jr.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(13)

Honegger, R. E. 2023. Alligators in the Circus Ring—An unusual habitat for an American Icon. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(13):131–136. Published November 28, 2023.

In Europe, animal shows featuring trained exotic animals were popular up until the 2010s. Shows with young chimpanzees, bears, lions, tigers, sea lions, Asian elephants and Indian rhinos attracted many spectators. In the circus world, these attractions were known as exotic acts. One of these exotics, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)—an icon of American folklore and herpetofauna—played a significant role in the European circus and vaudeville scene. Three of the more prominent performers who used alligators are discusses here.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(12)

Bell, C. J. 2023. Waldo McAtee and the Herpetological Portions of Nomina Abitera, 1945 and Supplement to Nomina Abitera, 1954 . Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(12):116–130. Published November 20, 2023.

“There appears to be among mankind an innate tendency toward ribaldry.” McAtee, 1945:1.

“Those hardy enough to conquer the wilderness usually left upon it the impress of a rich vocabulary” McAtee, 1945:1.