“This is the age of the snakes: they have done the most with the least.”
Introducing my new favorite snake book, HUNTERS IN THE TREES: A Natural History of Arboreal Snakes by Richard A. Sajdak! I was tipped off by Jeff Murray who made a post about this book on social media, saying he had recently purchased it. A quick search led me to a preview of the Table of Contents and listed chapters such as:
Chapter 1. What is a Tree Snake?
Chapter 7. Frogs and Snakes
Chapter 8. Birds and Snakes
Chapter 10. Bugs, Snails, and Snakes
Then, the final chapter…
Chapter 13. All Cats Are Gray-Old World Cat Snakes
You see, I have a growing fascination with Old World Cat Snakes of the genus Boiga. In fact, it was a Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis) found in Australia years ago that spurned my interest in arboreal species in the first place. I remember the first time I saw a Mangrove Snake (Boiga dendrophila) during the snake show at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota. It was one of the prettiest snakes I had ever seen. Two years ago, I discovered-quite serendipitously-a renowned, Italian keeper of Boiga a month before my already planned trip to Italy! A few emails later and a short detour from our itinerary and I was surrounded by his extensive collection, most species I had never before laid eyes on outside of books.
Speaking of books, there aren’t many on the topic of Boiga except in the context of the Brown Tree Snake’s unfortunate yet successful conquest of the island of Guam. So then, you can imagine my excitement when I saw that thirteenth chapter.
Clearly the author is credible. Twenty years as a Reptile Curator and extensive fieldwork throughout the Caribbean and Costa Rica manifest themselves in the pages of this book through anecdotes and personal experience. The author hasn’t let that expertise go to his head however, and the reader is awarded with a nontechnical writing style in the first person where you, the reader, are brought along with him to discover the intricacies and quirks that make this group of snakes so fascinating. To illustrate my point, the words “our” and “we” pop up now and then; “Consider our imaginary hunt…” begins one paragraph illustrating the obstacles encountered by our make-believe tree boa as it hunts a squirrel high in the trees.
The book begins by defining a tree snake. What is a tree snake? Then goes on to discuss differences in color, anatomy and locomotion in specific terms relating to arboreal snakes. Have you ever thought about the location of a snake’s internal organs in relation to it’s environment? Is the location of the heart the same in a sea snake as a tree snake? Why not? The discussion of blood pressure was truly fascinating to me. Did you know giraffes have one of the highest blood pressures in the animal kingdom, and have a special valve somewhere in their head that stops blood from pooling in their brain when they kneel down to take a drink? I learned that in this book! And it’s not even about giraffes, imagine how much more I learned about snakes! I learned about snakes in general, and then understood more about how better adapted arboreal snakes are to live in the habitats they do. While I’ve often admired the external adaptations snakes have relative to their environment such as, eye size, tail shape, color, etc. I had never imagined the internal ones that exist.
The following chapters talk about tree snakes in relation to their prey; frogs, birds, rats, snakes, bugs, snails, etc. It is a neat way to break it up and each chapter is chock-full of knowledge. Here’s another fun fact; woodpecker nests are often predated upon by ratsnakes and have come up with a pretty neat plan to defend their nests by surrounding them with sap. You’ll have to read the book to find out how, but its pretty wild.
There are special chapters about boas and pythons, which center mainly around the genus Corallus, with mention of insular Caribbean boas as well as the Green Tree Python and Madagascar Tree Boa. True to his tree snake definition, which is “…any snake that forages above ground throughout its life…” some snakes are understandably absent such as the carpet and scrub pythons and boa species which abandon a mostly arboreal lifestyle as youngsters, to move into a more terrestrial existence as adults.
Arboreal vipers are granted their own chapter, and I admit I am quite fascinated by them. The final chapter on Old World Cat Snakes was well received however still heavy on the Brown Tree Snakes. I get it. They are probably the most studied, most researched and most published species of snake in the world. Therefore, I will not complain.
There you have it. My favorite snake book so far. Perhaps in part, because it is about my favorite type of snakes so far. If you like snakes, especially arboreal snakes, or even giraffes you are going to enjoy this book!
Thank you Jeff Murray for putting this book on my radar!