Posts Tagged Naturalist’s Color Guide

Book Review: Color Catalogue for Field Biologists

Herpeton10054_titelColor Catalogue for Field Biologists, by Gunther Köhler, Herpeton (, 2012, 49 pages, € 24.80 (~$32.00).

For years, when it came to describing a species in the field, the gold standard in color standards was Frank B. Smithe’s “Naturalist’s Color Guide”. The Smithe Guide provided a palette of 182 color swatches against which to compare and discern the colors in a hummingbird’s ruby gorget feather or the cobalt venter scales of a “blue belly” western fence lizard. Much like the Munsell color system – familiar to many through the Munsell soil color charts used in the field by soil scientists for, among other things, wetland delineations – the Smith Guide was the go-to-guide for wildlife biologists and taxonomists who needed to record accurate and reproducible species descriptions. When the Smith Guide went out of print in 1981, it left a gap in the suite of references available to scientists.

With the publication of Gunther Köhler’s Color Catalogue for Field Biologists, that gap is once again filled. Picking up where the Smithe Guide left off, the ‘Köhler Catalogue’ builds off the 182 original swatches with an additional 118 swatches that span the spectrum from Kingfisher Rufous and Pistachio to Light Russet Vinaceous and Cinnamon Drab. The Köhler Catalogue boasts many features, amongst them an English/Spanish translation, an introductory glossary of terms (e.g. stipples vs dots), photographic figures illustrating key terms, and a primer on preparing color descriptions in life. The heavy card stock, heavy duty front and back covers, and spiral-bound spine show that the Köhler Catalogue is meant to get dirty.

Although the guide is geared toward herpetologists (the terms and photographs, for example, illustrate the art of describing amphibians and reptiles), even Köhler admits its utility for ichthyologists, ornithologists, entomologists, botanists, and – although he neglects to mention them – mammalogists. But no matter the taxon, nowadays when you find yourself at a loss for words to describe a new species or a new specimen – be it bird or bee – you can turn to the Köhler Catalogue.

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