The Encyclopedia of Snakes – Review

The Encyclopedia of SnakesPoachingFacts rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Encyclopedia of Snakes (1995) by wildlife photographer, writer, and professional herpetologist Christopher Mattison (website) is a remarkably keen and interesting dissection of every type of snake, the origin of snake families (if known), and in-depth information on hundreds of modern snake species. Its accessibility for people casually interested in snakes and for amateur herpetologists makes it an ideal reference book.

This reference book is not truly an encyclopedia and does not have the format of one, however its information and breadth is “encyclopedic” and it is well sourced by its experienced and world-renowned author, the numerous footnotes, and in the “bibliography” which is more of a “recommended reading” selection of books which this Encyclopedia of Snakes builds on. Roughly 200 amazing color photographs and illustrations provide background to snake behavior, morphology, food supply, and distribution. It should be noted that while all of the photos are fantastic in subject and color, some of the photos do depict animals (and eggs) being eaten. These photos are not particularly graphic and are academic in nature.

The Encyclopedia of Snakes is organized into 10 distinct themes beginning with the origin and evolution of snakes, their morphology (different sizes, shapes, means of movement, etc.), and ending with human-wildlife conflict and conservation of snakes, taxonomy, and classification. In roughly 250 pages Mattison is able to comprehensively touch on every aspect of snake life, reproduction, and death while retaining a format that is capable of keeping casual readers interested and amateur herpetologists impressed.

Interspersed throughout the pages on snake families and specific species are anecdotal and tangential facts which natural history lovers and snake lovers will find very interesting. These facts provide a basis for casual readers to explore the world of snakes and cover such topics as: radio-tracking snakes; population decline; snakes in folk culture; Brusher Mills, a 19th-century English snake catcher; species diversity on islands; and
temperature tolerance.

A recent revision to this book, simply titled The New Encyclopedia of Snakes (2007), is nearly 20 pages longer and builds on the existing structure by adding several newly identified snake families and adds references to hundreds of new snake species. It also corrects classification and taxonomic information from the previous edition that has gone out of date in the intervening years.

This and other PoachingFacts reviews are also available on