Book Review: The Monochotomous Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Metropolitan San Francisco Bay Region – A Diagnostic Key

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The Monochotomous Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Metropolitan San Francisco Bay Region – A Diagnostic Key, by Skóla Per-Hús Degrasse, Feaux•Afield Guides (www.feauxafieldguides.com), 2015, 401 pages, $89.95

Over the centuries, traditional field identification keys have proven clumsy, confusing, and unreliable for everyday scientists. Especially in the herpetological community, the battle between diagnosticians and field biologists has proven especially messy. The surprising dearth today of keys in the field of herpetology stems from a long-pitched battle between proponents of the synoptic (taxonomic) and diagnostic key camps, and the appropriateness of dichotomous (bifurcating) versus polytomous (multifurcating) keys.

Take for example the following schema. When presented with a couplet offering two leads in the traditional diagnostic dichotomous key to California’s hodgepodge of slender salamanders, the operator is left stranded in a sea of keels and folds:

39.1-7a. Dorsolateral fold hirsute, marginal scales abruptly to gently keeled, axilla-to-groin interstice hourglass-shaped
39.1-7b. Dorsolateral fold naked to downy, marginal scales gently to abruptly keeled, axilla-to-groin interstice empire waist-shaped

And let’s face it – not every field biologist has the luxury of having a specimen in hand to count inguinal folds or nasolabial scutes. Recognizing the need for a linear identification key, Occidentalis College Professor Skóla Per-Hús Degrasse of western Fen’s lizard fame has developed the world’s first monochotomous key to San Francisco Bay Area herptiles. The basis of the Degrasse Monochotomous Key is the ‘Quid est Cascade’ – simply turn to the monochotomous key, ask yourself “What is it I saw?”, and work your way down the cascade of species names until you find the salamander or frog or lizard or snake or turtle you saw. When you come across the correct species, look to the right-hand side of the page for a page number. There, in line with the simplicity of the Degrasse Monochotomous Key, each resulting photo-profile includes four color photographs and the species’ common and scientific name. Look at the pictures and ask yourself, “Is it a _____ I saw?” If not, turn back to the start of the monochotomous key and start again. TOC Grab By implementing a schema no more sophisticated than a table of contents, this singular guide has already revolutionized the world of field diagnostics. Williams Harland, editor in chief at Feaux•Afield Guides, likens the Degrasse Monochotomous Key to the proverbial 7-Minute Abs. “You walk into a book store, you see 8-Minute Abs sittin’ there, there’s 7-Minute Abs right beside it. Which one are you going to pick? There’s something about marrying science and simplicity that makes this key so ingenious. Where other keys are tedious, laborious manuals that demand a meticulous understanding of anatomical minutiae, the Degrasse guide is like picking up a coffee table book.”

“The snakes in Degrasse’s guide, for example, key out with little more than a flip of the page,” says Harland, who has been watching Degrasse grow under his feat of taking the key from concept to completion. “Demand on Degrasse’s knowledge has shaped this guide into the real deal, a plausible book depository of all things herpetological.”

Printed on archival, heavy-stock 12′ x 19′ folio sheets, the final presentation of this exquisite hardbound guide includes decorative gilt boards, spine, and edges, a water-proof tooled Moroccan leather-bound presentation box (to protect it against the elements during field work), and ribbon marker. The Monochotomous Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Metropolitan San Francisco Bay Region – A Diagnostic Key is slated to hit bookshelves April 1st.

{APRIL FOOLS DAY POST 2015}

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  1. #1 by cohendc on April 1, 2015 - 9:59 am

    very good.

  2. #2 by Matthew Bettelheim on April 2, 2015 - 9:09 pm

    Many thanks 🙂

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