"Gray-banded Kingsnakes:
Identification, Care, and Breeding"
by Jerry G. Walls

Reviewed by Troy Hibbitts
After a brief glance at this book, my first thought was that the author needs to learn how to identify the species before he writes another herp book. While his treatment of all ruthveni, mexicana, and alterna as mexicana has some scientific justification, his treatment of the group as such is primarily done for convenience. Overall, errors are rampant in this book, and Walls seems to be unable to correctly identify any of the forms discussed with accuracy.

On page 1, a photo of a fairly typical greeri is depicted and referred to as a "L. m. mexicana . . . showing some influence from L. m. alterna . . . ". On page 47, he uses a lithograph from Guenther, 1893, depicting a leonis phase thayeri, saying that this is "an aberrant individual with characteristics of both alterna and more typical mexicana . . . ". On page 49 is the worst error of the book, when Walls shows picture that he says is a greeri that "bears a strong resemblance to the type of leonis". The snake pictured is in fact a juvenile Baird's Ratsnake! On page 51 he shows what he calls a greeri which, judging from the photo, is actually a captive produced greeri intergrade with some other form of mexicana. Then on page 52, he compounds his error of page 49 with the following statement and photo "This hatchling looks a lot like a somewhat typical alterna, but it actually comes from a greeri line. However, it was sold as a thayeri variant, to make things even more confused." Imagine the surprise of its owner when it grew up and developed the 4 longitudinal stripes of an adult Baird's Ratsnake!

Non-photographic errors include the use of Denny Miller's 25 year old range map to depict the range of alterna. On page 19 he suggests feeding baby alterna green anoles (Don't feed a western snake an eastern lizard! = parasites). On page 54, he says of mexicana that the genetics are so jumbled that any captive breeding program is likely to lead to further confusion of the forms and that hobbyists are "definitely using too many names for the color patterns . . ." and that they are confusing a rather simple situation of intergradation and variation (as if anything dealing with the genetics of these forms is simple!). He does mention the "rumor" that fewer alterna are collected in recent years than in the past (certainly in 96, but not true for '92 and '93!).

In general, the book is a poor discussion of the group, even for a TFH petshop book. There are some nice photos of locality alterna, even a genuine 6 mi S of Alpine snake which I have personally held, but the confused treatment of the mexicana forms is a joke. I mean, a Baird's ratsnake! Really, only the greenest rookie at Loma or Langtry would make that mistake.

Troy Hibbitts alterna@flash.net

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