Book of the Week: Biologia Centrali-Americana : Reptilia and Batrachia

My first encounter with an amphibian was the all but loveable Kermit the frog from Sesame Street. While reptiles and amphibians are not warm and cuddly like Kermit, these ectothermic vertebrates (cold-blooded) are incredibly interesting. Some of them breathe through their damp skin. They are incredible predators.  Most species have super sensitive hearing that can detect airborne or ground vibrations, and their tongues are super muscular.

Pop culture has embraced reptiles and amphibians portraying them in humorous roles and as villains including the vocal frogs from the commercial for Budweiser beer, Nagini from Harry Potter, Kaa from the Jungle Book, Jafar from Aladdin, Tic Tock from Peter Pan, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Amphibians and reptiles are incredibly important to global biodiversity. Dramatic declines have been measured across the globe since the late 1980s and indicate critical threats. There are groups trying to do something about this including the Amphibian Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union, Amphibian Ark, Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation PARC, and the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project among others.

Pioneers in the documentation of these creatures were Frederick Godman and Osbert Salvin  the authors of Biologia Centrali-Americana : Reptilia and Batrachia, one volume in a 63 volume set called Biologia Centrali-Americana. Godman and Osbert set out to create the most comprehensive account of the flora and fauna of Mexico and Central America by hiring many local experts to collect specimens for study. They published the set over the course of 36 years.

The entire set includes over 900 illustrations. Published between 1879-1915, Biologia Centrali-Americana : Reptilia and Batrachia, focuses on retiles and amphibians and is key to early discoveries in print of a variety of  species.

One critically endangered species, Godman and Osbert wrote about is the Costa Rican Variable Harlequin Toad (Atelopus varius), also known as the clown frog, is a neo-tropical true toad. They feed on small arthropods and their colorful appearance serves as a warning to potential predators of their toxicity of their skin, which contains a neurotoxin.

Micrurus nigrocinctus is also known as the Central American coral snake. This venomous snake lives between southern Mexico to northwestern Colombia. They can be recognized by their color pattern, which varies from two-colored to three-colored with black, yellow and red banding. They are non-aggressive Caecilians that feed on other snakes, small lizards, amphibians, and invertebrates. Their venom contains a strong neurotoxin, causing neuromuscular dysfunction.

Browse through more of the illustrations from the book of the week in the BHL Flickr here.

Learn more about other reptiles and amphibians by reading the book. This set has been covered before in the BHL blog. Read more about it here.

Amphibians of Panama. (n.d.). Atelopus varius. Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved from
Amphibians of Panama. (n.d.). Atelopus varius Lichtenstein and von Martens 1856. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Retrieved from
Andrew, Elise. (14 September 2013). Untitled. I [Freaking] Love Science. Retrieved from

Unknown. (n.d.). Micrurus nigrocinctus black-banded Coral Snake. Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved from

Unknown. (n.d.). Fun Reptile Facts for Kids. Science Kids. Retrieved from 

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Kai Alexis Smith served as a Virtual Marketing Intern for the Biodiversity Heritage Library in Fall 2013.