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Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review: Venomous Snakes of the World by Mark O'Shea

Many people of almost any culture in the world seem to have an almost innate ear of snakes. As with most fears, knowledge is the most effective cure. Mark O'Shea's Venomous Snakes of the World seeks to arm the reader with exactly that sort of knowledge required to overcome instintual fears and replace it with a respect for venomous snakes founded in realities instead of ancestral myths.

O'Shea begins by explaining the anatomy of venomous snakes, detailing how they find prey and how they deliver their venom to enemies as well as the pery they intend to eat. Here we learn interesting facts about the way snakes are put together. They don't dislocate their jaws as we may have previously "learned", for example, but rather articulate them about a ball and socket joint.

From there, Venomous Snakes of the World briefly discusses the taxonomy or scientific classification of snakes and their evolution before jumping right into a detailed discussion of venoms. There are eight distinct class of toxins found in the venoms of various snake species, and O'Shea details the specific effects of each in great detail, including in somes case photographs of people affected by the specific snake venoms.

Because of our unreasoning fears of snakes, they are often the subject of lethal persecution around the world. Throughout history, mankind has literally tried to stamp them out of existence with varying levels of success. O'Shea next discusses snake conservation and points at some of the outlets for commercial poaching of endangered snake species.

With those preliminaries out of the way, Venous Snakes of the World gets right to the reason for which the reader likely picked up the book in the first palce, the snakes themselves. O'Shea takes us on a continent by continent tour of the world's venomous snakes with plentiful color photographs and detailed desciptions. Many of the snakes he discusses are further brough to life by stories of his personal experiences with the snake. One such amusing anecdote detials his reaction ot a diamondback rattlesnake bite: "I secured the snakes and locked the cage, collected the antivenom from the fridge, and just managed to raise the alarm before the venom rendered me unconscious... I discovered I had lost my vision and virtually the ability to speak.  I...knew if I allowed myself to become unconscious again I might nevere wake up."

O'Shea estimates that more than 40,000 people die of snake bites each year. make no mistake; venomous snakes are dangerous, but with enough knowledge we can both keep ourselves out of harm's way, and preserve these important species to play their role in the overall eco-system. Venomous Snakes of the World provides us with that.

Disclosure: Mark O'Shea's Venomous Snakes of the World was provided to me for review by the Princeton University Press, free of charge.

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