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Bookreview: Tarantulas of Belize

Bookreview: A guide to Frogs and Toads of Belize

Book Reviews

By Jan Meerman

Tarantulas Of Belize

by Steven B. Reichling

Original edition 2003

148 pp. ISBN 1-57524-206-0 Cloth $ 29.50

148 pp. ISBN 1-57524-228-1 Cloth $ 21.95

Krieger Publishing Company

Melbourne FL, USA


How to write a 148 page book about only 9 Tarantula species? This was a question I asked myself when the book was announced. Well, the author has succeeded quite commendably by including a lot of other useful and interesting information.


The book starts with a story of how and why the author came to hunt for Tarantulas in Belize. This is quite interesting reading, especially for someone from Belize, who might know some of the people discussed.


This introduction is followed by chapters on the physiography of Belize and the history of Tarantula collecting in that country. Basic spider classification explains what distinguishes a tarantula from other spiders and chapters called “Why Care about Tarantulas?”, “Why Worry about Tarantulas?” deal with peoples fear of Tarantulas, how to deal with that, what makes Tarantulas such interesting and worthwhile study objects and what the place of Tarantulas is in the whole of the tropical ecosystem. Chapters called "Tarantula Habitats", "The Hidden Life of Belizean Tarantulas" and "How to Find Tarantulas" explain more about the lifestyle of the different species and how knowing their habits can help you finding them. Important in this context is a chapter called "Collecting and the Law" which explains in great detail the steps that you have to go through if you want to legally study and/or catch Tarantulas in Belize and import them into the United States.


Finally comes the taxonomic section: "How to identify Belizean Tarantulas" describes general morphology and diagnostic characteristics and also comes with a key to the tarantulas of Belize. The chapter "Species Accounts" describes in detail all the 9 species reported from Belize. This description is very detailed indeed. Apart from the morphological description it comments on similar species, distribution (with map!), habitat, abundance and reproduction. This section is enhanced by in total 14 color plates of the species discussed. The nine species reported may not constitute everything that actually IS in Belize. For this reason there is a chapter on "Extralimital Species", describing an extra 4 species that have been described from areas near Belize and might just occur here as well.


Scientists will be happy with a "Gazetteer" giving locality records for all the specimens that the author examined for this publication. Equally important for the specialist is the bibliography, while every reader will be happy with the glossary that concludes the book. After all, spider taxonomy comes with a lot of very specific scientific terminology and reading this book without having access to its glossary would be a challenge for most readers.


Over all, an excellent book and it encouraged me to go out and find the species described. Now I am fortunate to live in an area where 5 of the 9 species are supposed to occur, so going into the woods and looking for burrows was likely to come up with some results. I was particularly pleased with the descriptions of the "Pygmy Tarantulas". These descriptions were so accurate that in no time I discovered dozens of burrows of these miniature Tarantulas!


There were a few instances when I found some shortcomings. Many of the black and white pictures in the book didn't come out too well. Some of the pictures actually don't show anything discernible. There is one small but annoying typo; in the distribution maps, Guatemala and Mexico are consistently confused! The key to the Tarantulas, I found difficult to work with. First of all, it starts with the choice of identifying males or females. How do you know the difference? Of course the difference is explained in previous chapters, but it is annoying having to go back and dig that piece of information up (especially when you have an aggravated tarantula in your hands). It would have been nice if some of the essential morphological characteristics (such as tibial spurs) had been explained with the aid of a drawing. Confusing is the issue of Psalmopoeus maya. The validity of this species is tenuous at best. That the species in included none the less, is excellent. Just in case the species is "real". In the book there is a picture together with locality notes. In the species account of this species however, this specimen is not mentioned. How come we can be sure that the specimen in the picture is indeed P.maya?


All in all, this book is an up-to-date reference that presents the tarantulas in Belize. This book is a must for professionals, hobbyists, naturalists and everyone interested in the biodiversity of Belize.



Upcoming review:

A Guide To The Frogs And Toads Of Belize


by John R. Meyer and Carol Farneti Foster

Original Edition 1996

96 pp. ISBN 0-89464-963-9 Cloth $ 24.50

Krieger Publishing Company

Melbourne FL, USA




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