Rattlesnakes of the Grand Canyon

Gordon Schuett, PHD
Charles Smith , PHD
Bob Ashley

Tell Hicks

Rattlesnakes of the Grand Canyon is the first publication in the ECO Natural History Series. This new line of books will emphasize presenting animals and plants in their natural settings. Rattlesnakes of the Grand Canyon (131 pp.) details the natural history of the eight species of rattlesnakes that live in this spectacular region and treasure known as the Grand Canyon. It is replete with new color images of rattlesnakes in their habitat. Information about them is up-to-date and accompanied by an abundance of references. Importantly, the book is accessible to the curious novice yet highly useful for the professional biologist. It contains many fresh insights into these remarkable animals. Written by research biologists who have studied rattlesnakes extensively, Rattlesnakes of the Grand Canyon is a must for every kind of naturalist.

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From on January 24, 2019
From Jon A. on December 16, 2018
Larry David Wilson 5.0 out of 5 stars Two of Nature’s wonders meet in this book… October 27, 2018 One of the most striking geological features of the United States is the Grand Canyon, a steep-sided river valley located in northwestern Arizona, which is part of the Colorado River Basin. This river drains most of the Colorado Plateau, a 130,000 square mile area more or less centered on the Four Corners Region, which region is so called because it is the point at which the adjacent corners of the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. The Grand Canyon is incorporated into the Grand Canyon National Park, which park comprises about 1,902 square miles and is the second most visited national park in the US after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the eastern part of the country. Thus, the canyon is well known as one of Nature’s most impressive wonders. Another of Nature’s significant wonders is the rattlesnakes of the genus Crotalus. This genus generally is considered as the sister genus of Sistrurus, containing the pygmy rattlesnakes, the distribution of which is almost completely confined to the United States. Both of these genera of snakes belong to the family Viperidae, commonly referred to as “vipers,” which are all venomous. So, rattlesnakes are defined by two signatory features, the rattle and their venom. These two features are both marvelous products of the evolutionary process. Rattlesnakes are the focus of wide-ranging on-going scientific research, are of hugely significant environmental importance, and are horribly persecuted by humans wherever these snakes occur. Fortunately, there are people who speak for rattlesnakes, who study them scientifically and avocationally, and are positioned to help the rest of us to learn about how to live in peace with these wonderful creatures. Thus enter the three authors of the book under review, who have succeeded in bringing two of Nature’s wonders, the Grand Canyon and rattlesnakes, to reside within the covers of a single book entitled Rattlesnakes of the Grand Canyon. These authors, Gordon W. Schuett, Charles F. Smith, and Bob Ashley, are accomplished aficionados of rattlesnake biology. Professional herpetologists and herpetological enthusiasts know them well as being two among the four coeditors (the first two of the three authors) of the monumental two-volume work Rattlesnakes of Arizona, published two years ago and as the owner of ECO Publishing and the Chihuahua Desert Museum, both operating out of Rodeo, New Mexico (the third of the three authors). Rattlesnakes of the Grand Canyon is a relatively small (131 pages) but visually sumptuous book of sufficiently small dimensions (6.5 x 9 inches) to carry conveniently on a field trip to this world-class national park. Thus, if one happens to encounter one of the buzztails in the area, the book owner can say, “Hey, I know that snake; here it is in the book!” Then, after walking away to leave the snake unharmed where it was found, the book owner then can relax to peruse all the useful information that is present in the accounts of the eight species of Crotalus found within the park’s limits, as well as the rest of the worthwhile stuff the authors have packed into this book. Enjoyment of this outstanding book begins with an appraisal of the front cover, the artwork on which consists, appropriately enough, of a painting of a montage of individuals of the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake (Crotalus abyssus) backed by a color image of a portion of the canyon itself, taken from one rim looking toward the other rim. The painting is by Tell Hicks, the successful wildlife artist who also provided the world-class paintings that appeared in Rattlesnakes of Arizona. Naturally, the book’s title overlays the canyon image and the sky above. An upper ribbon indicates that this book is part of the ECO Natural History Series (for which some 15 titles are currently in the plans) and a lower ribbon contains the names of the three authors. Even the back cover offers up interesting stuff, including another rim-to-rim shot of the canyon and a 1903 quotation attributed to Theodore Roosevelt written during his period of service (1901–1909) as one of this nation’s finest presidents. Today’s conservationists and conservation biologists owe a huge debt to this president, who established five of our country’s 60 national parks, although the Grand Canyon National Park was not among them (this park was established in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson, to whom I apparently am not related…chuckle, chuckle). Nonetheless, President Roosevelt visited the canyon in 1903 and the words on the back cover resulted from that visit. This quote is repeated on the page opposite that occupied by the Table of Contents. Roosevelt’s message is even more valuable today than it was when he wrote it. The back cover page also is graced by a curious pottery design (see pg. 15) that is used throughout the book to introduce its sections. The copyright page reveals how well the three authors complemented one another in the assembly of this remarkable piece of work. There it is indicated that the publisher is ECO Publishing, mentioned above as being owned and operated by the third author, Bob Ashley. The person identified as responsible for the outstanding layout and design, as well as the artwork and distribution maps, is the work of Charles F. Smith, the second author. Although I don’t find it explicitly stated, I think that Dr. Schuett probably took the lead on the writing of the text. Whatever the case, these three fellows functioned as a well-oiled team. Each of the major sections of the book is preceded by a full-page illustration, usually a photograph, but sometimes a painting by Tell Hicks. These illustrations are of various perspectives in and around the canyon. These major sections are the foreword, acknowledgments, introduction, species accounts, literature cited and references, and glossary. The introduction comprises 13 pages dealing with a range of general topics related to the principal subject of the book. After a brief statement on the cultural, biological, and medicinal importance of rattlesnakes, the authors briefly explore the following topics: the Colorado River Basin, Colorado Plateau, and the origin of the Grand Canyon and its geology; human influence and culture; the Grand Canyon National Park; a primer on rattlesnakes and their relatives; the rattle; and reproduction. The discussion of the rattle is perhaps the topic of central interest to the snake aficionado, given that one does not have in hand a rattlesnake if there is no rattle sitting at the end of its tail. As indicated by the authors, “[the] rattlesnake rattle is arguably one of the most complex and unique natural sound-producing structures known to science.” Our understanding of the evolution of this remarkable structure is still being teased out of the dim shadows of the geological past and so the scientific elaboration of its history is still very much a work in progress. The one-page foreword is written by Geoffrey C. Carpenter and Andrew T. Holycross. The acknowledgments, also of one page, indicate the other people who helped put the book together, especially by providing some really exceptional photographs. As expected, the majority of the book consists of the species accounts (94 of 131 pp.) of the eight Grand Canyon rattlesnakes. The eight species are the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake (Crotalus abyssus), the Midget Faded Rattlesnake (C. concolor), the Great Basin Rattlesnake (C. lutosus), the Prairie Rattlesnake (C. viridis), the Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (C. atrox), the Black-tailed Rattlesnake (C. molossus), the Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (C. pyrrhus), and the Mojave Rattlesnake (C. scutulatus). Each of these species accounts consists of six sections, including those on common (vernacular) names, scientific names, description (body size, pattern and coloration, venom, and similar looking species), distribution and habitats, ecology and behavior, and population status and conservation. Each species account is introduced by a Tell Hicks painting of several individuals of the species in question and is capped by a full-color distribution map illustrating the occurrence of the species in question in the canyon and surroundings. In addition, each chapter is graced by several uniformly lovely and useful photographs of the snakes themselves, their habitat, and of their behavior (e.g., ritual combat between males for access to the females). Given the organizational uniformity of the species accounts, some readers might wish, if they have some time on their hands, to conduct a cross-species account comparison of some or all of the features in these eight accounts. I, for example, am interested in how they handled the sections on population status and conservation in order to obtain a bigger picture about how these rattlesnakes are faring in dealing with humanity. The section on literature cited and references is interestingly and helpfully organized into subsections leading from more general to more specific. The four subsections occupy eight pages and list references dealing, in order, with general subjects, reptiles, snakes, and rattlesnakes. Most of the works listed deal specifically with rattlesnakes, as one would expect. The last section of the book is a glossary of two pages. The 18 terms included are general in nature, although technical (e.g., species). These terms are defined as they would be for biologists, so the definitions might send the lay reader in search of supporting definitions (e.g., the definition of “eurcaryotic organism”). As such, the book promotes extended learning, which is always good. The last page of the book contains brief biosketches for these three accomplished people. This book is a small gem in a very large setting, i.e., it is a very nice treatment of a small number of rattlesnake species that occurs in a spectacular natural feature, the Grand Canyon. For the folks reading this review, I am able to highly recommend this book enthusiastically for a broad range of people, from professional herpetologists, snake enthusiasts, herpetoculturists, conservation biologists, natural history buffs, to tourists who plan to visit the GCNP, as well as anyone who appreciates a piece of work well done that is visually striking and with informational brilliance.
From Jon A. on December 16, 2018
Kelly Chabak 5.0 out of 5 stars What's that buzzing on Bright Angle Trail? Rattlesnakes where you didn't expect to find them November 4, 2018 Verified Purchase This book is a great concise reference source. It has high production value, is well arrange to facilitate finding info and has the most up to date data for the snake lover in your life. A wonderful addition to any library.
From Jon A. on December 16, 2018
Robert Bezy 5.0 out of 5 starsAn exquisite book November 7, 2018 Verified Purchase This is a wonderful book that introduces the reader to an under-appreciated part of the fauna of America’s incomparable Grand Canyon. The authors cover the topic thoroughly with a very lively writing style relaying what we know of the eight species found in the region. Unlike many books of this type the text supplies references for the interested reader to pursue. Tell Hicks' artwork is stunning and his rendering of Crotalus abyssus on the edge of the canyon is absolutely exquisite. The abundant photographs of the snakes and landscapes are sharp and pleasing, printed with great color and pleasing layout on high quality paper. I read this highly affordable book cover to cover and enjoyed every page.
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