“Did you know that tuataras can live until they are over 100 years old? Or that there are 43 species of native geckos and 64 different species of native skinks in New Zealand? This handy guidebook describes them all, along with native frogs and sea turtles and sea-snakes found in New Zealand waters.
Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand: A Field Guide is an excellent guide to all of these species. Each species has a minimum of two pages devoted to it with a full-colour photo against a white background to help with their identification, a measurement of their possible size, and a New Zealand map showing their present location. Also included is a written description of the reptile, notes on the natural history, the habitat of the species and distinguishing features that differ from other similar animals found in their location.
There is also a key that distinguishes all the reptiles found and a list of reptiles found in each region of New Zealand.
My partner, a retired zoo vet cast his critical eye over this book and commented:
“While each reptile has its adult length mentioned (or more correctly its snout to vent length as most are capable of losing their tails), the adult weight is only covered in some species, presumably because the information is not readily available. Also not mentioned is any record of the birth or hatch weight of the reptiles which would help with the identification of juveniles. More importantly reference to the current conservation status (i.e. whether the species is endangered, threatened etc.) of the various species is not covered, which is quite a major omission.
Despite this, the book is an excellent guide for any herpetologist, or an aspiring amateur, to assist in the identification of the large number of reptiles and amphibians found in New Zealand, and to read brief notes about those they find.”
We have never before seen a skink in our house but as I was writing this review one slithered out of the garden into our lounge. What a curious coincidence! We hastily consulted the Field Guide and confirmed it was a rainbow skink. All our native skink and gecko species4 are endemic except for this Aussie interloper which has successfully established itself here.5 Scientists think this species probably arrived accidentally on a ship from Australia.
We are unlikely to catch sight of many of the Reptiles and Amphibians described in this handbook (except in zoos and predator-free reserves). Like our birds, their numbers have been severely depleted since the arrival of humans who brought with them mammalian predators and the destroyed much of their habitat. So unlike field guides about our NZ birds, you may not be able to put this one to a great deal of practical use.
But I think it is a book which nature-loving families would find fascinating and a good introduction to a whole lot of creatures they may well not have known existed here in New Zealand and which are an important part of our rich biodiversity.
Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand: A field guide by Dylan van Winkel, Marleen Baling and Rod Hitchmough. Auckland University Press. RRP $49.99.
Reviews by Lyn Potter
Parent and grandparent, Avid traveler, writer & passionate home cook