the snake scientistThe Snake Scientist by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

Amber (9) loves animals and says she want to be a wildlife biologist. One problem I run into, though, is that it’s hard to find good, interesting non-fiction animal or science books that are actually at her reading level. So many seem to be aimed at younger kids or teenagers. This one was perfect, though, one that we both learned from and enjoyed.

The Snake Scientist is Bob Mason, a zoologist at Oregon State University. The book discusses his research projects at the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba, where in the spring over 18,000 red-sided garter nakes come out of their dens.

For about six weeks each April and May, thousands of these harmless snakes awaken from eight months’ sleep beneath the earth. They pour out of the pits like water—a river of writhing reptiles. At any of the three big dens here, you can see more snakes at a glance than you could find anywhere else in the world: so many snakes that they are piled two feet deep in place…so many snakes that you could pick up ten, twenty, even thirty of them in a handful.

Bob and his assistants gather snakes and run different experiments, learning more about how and why they do what they do. Various research techniques are described and there’s a good explanation of pheromones. The book also does a good job of demonstrating how various subjects, biology, math, chemistry, are all interrelated. Amber loves science, but not math so much, so it’s always nice when a book shows that scientists really do need math in the real world for more than just adding and subtracting.

The pictures are fascinating too, although I will say that if you’re not a big fan of snakes, you probably don’t want to pick this up. The photos of all those slithering snakes together are amazing. Other photos show the scientists and volunteers at work. Also, in the back, there’s a list of other snake books.

This is one of a series called Scientists in the Field. I’ve already put a hold in at the library for another, the Quest for the Tree Kangaroo.


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