Florida State University : Research in Review

[Skip Navigation]

Stalking the Plumed Serpent

A Life with Creepy-Crawlies

Stalking the Plumed Serpent and Other Adventures in Herpetology

by D. Bruce Means: Pineapple Press, Inc., 2008, 238 pages, $19.95.

Bank on it: when Bruce Means, renowned herpetologist and former director of the Tall Timbers Research Station near Tallahassee, visits a wild place, he will find something of note. Lucky for us, he takes us along—and it's the ride of a lifetime.

Drawing heavily on his field notes, Means leads us through some of the finest "froggy/lizardy/snakey/insecty-looking habitat" in the Americas and Australia. We share his delight as he discovers that frogs eat bats, cottonmouths don't really chase people, and some rattlesnakes are "as placid as dishrags."

Means' focus amid chaos is impressive. In one episode he escapes the eruption of a volcano, only to pause mid-flight to write about the event, as ash and embers fall all around him.

He needs that calmness in the face of danger, because his excitement at the prospect of nabbing a prime specimen often gets the better of him. Means seems heedless of his own safety—reaching deep into black water where snapping turtles lurk, pouncing on a venomous snake while wearing shorts and sandals—and although he chides himself after every risky encounter, he dives into the next one with the same gusto.

But the real value of his close calls isn't the adrenaline rush. It's the chance to meet little-known species up close and learn about how they live. With familiarity comes appreciation, he hopes; and he gives us ample cause to celebrate the creepy-crawly creatures he loves.

"Finding snakes is like catching fish," Means writes. "Some days you don't get a bite. Other days you fill the boat."In this book, Means fills the boat and then some.

-Cherie Winner