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.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(11)

Bettelheim, M. P. 2023. The Cartographer’s Turtle: The Grotesque Origins of Renaissance Map Turtles. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(11):108–115. Published October 29, 2023.

Amongst the late sixteenth-century watercolor drawings of Dutch fisherman Adriaen Coenen can be found a sea creature: A flying turtle Coenen called the “sea-eagle” whose origins have yet to be firmly ascertained. Some historians have traced its ancestry as far back as two Renaissance maps dated to 1558. Another instance, Flemish engraver Cornelis Bos’ 1548 frieze The Triumph of Neptune, has yet to be described in the context of the “sea-eagle” and is reported here. Together, these examples establish the genesis of this Dutch zeemonster in an ornamental art style known as the Netherland Grotesque that emerged ca. 1540 and was pioneered by Flemish artists and their re-imagination of Italian grotesques. By tracing the history of these Renaissance maps and Bos’ frieze, the emergence of the “sea-eagle” is re-considered against the backdrop of the advent of the Netherland Grotesque.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(10)

Powell, G. L. and A. P. Russell 2023. The horns of horned lizards (Phrynosomatidae: Phrynosoma): the long road to their conceptualization as unique lacertilian features with individual identity. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(10):86–107. Published October 29, 2023.

Lizards of the genus Phrynosoma are distinguished from all other lizards by the presence of an array of cranial horns, but until recently, these have largely been considered to be homologous only in the aggregate. The terminology used to denote them in the descriptive literature has been inconsistent and not based upon a common definition for these structures. Here we review the terminology applied to the cranial asperities of the species of Phrynosoma, from their first published description to the present day. Early authors noted the presence of “bristles”, “prickles”, “spines”, “horns”, “tuberculous knobs”, “tubercles”, “points”, “thorny eminences”, “stings”, “thorn-shaped projections” and “quills”. Later descriptions used the terms “tubercles”, “protuberances”, “bony processes”, “horns”, “spines”, “tuberosities”, and “rugosities”, at times interchangeably, but there continued to be no generally agreed-upon definition for the asperities to which these terms were applied. A consistent naming scheme for the horns of the species of Phrynosoma is necessary for the formulation and testing of hypotheses of horn homology among its species, and for further investigation of the evolution of these unique features.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(9)

Dodd, C. K. Jr. 2023. Bibliographica Herpetologica – Updates on “How to Raise a Bullfrog” and “Snakes in a Grave”. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(9):83–85. Published September 19, 2023.

ISHBH at the 10th World Congress of Herpetology

Members of the ISHBH,

The 10th World Congress of Herpetology will be held in Kuching, Sarawak, on the island of Borneo from 5-9 August 2024.

ISHBH should be well represented there, and a great way to promote the society and attract new members is to have at the Congress a special symposium that is dedicated to the history and bibliography of herpetology. 

I would like to submit a proposal for such a symposium. I am writing to encourage you to join me, Aaron Bauer, and Thore Koppetsch and talk about your favorite aspect of history or bibliography of herpetology. We are framing the symposium with that broad topic to attract as many of you as possible to join us. We plan on a half-day symposium, allowing us to have 8 to 9 15-minute presentations or 4 to 5 30-minute presentations.

Presenting in the symposium will not prevent you from also giving a research talk at Congress, so please consider this opportunity and JOIN US!!

All I need at this point is your name, your affiliation, a tentative talk title, and, if you are already committed to attending, a written statement that you plan to attend and can afford to get there (Congress organizers cannot guarantee funds for travel to the meeting).

Note: All presentations are expected to be face-to-face at the Conference Centre in Kuching!

Please send these ASAP, and no later than 27 September to me at

I look forward to hearing from many of you!!

Chris Bell Secretary, ISHBH

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(8)

André Koch, A. and S. Schweiger 2023. On the Provenance of the two large Gharials in the Display Collection of the Natural History Museum Vienna. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 17(8):67–82. Published August 31, 2023.

This article is an extended translation of the following publication: Koch, A. and S. Schweiger (2023). Zur Provenienz der beiden großen Gangesgaviale in der Schausammlung des Naturhistorischen Museums Wien. Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien, 125B: 83–100.

While exhibits in natural history museums have great value as display and teaching objects, they can also have a provenance that is fascinating and enlightening. One such example are the two large gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) hides exhibited in the Natural History Museum Vienna. They were purchased in 1902 by Franz Steindachner, the then Intendant (Director), and impress with their enormous size of 453 cm and 543 cm, respectively. Although they have been in the museum's collections for 120 years, until recently very little was known about the origin of the two crocodiles and how they originally came to Vienna. During our provenance research, we were able to reconstruct considerable aspects of the path of the two unique specimens from South Asia via the famous animal trader Carl Hagenbeck and the Umlauff family business in Hamburg, Germany, to the Austrian capital. In addition, other large gharial specimens in European natural history museums from Umlauff are discussed and illustrated herein.