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Mammals of Colorado, by Fitzgerald, Meaney and Armstrong

Review by Martha Quillen

Wildlife – August 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

Mammals of Colorado
by James P. Fitzgerald, Carron A. Meaney and David M. Armstrong
published in 1994 by The Denver Museum of Natural History and University Press of Colorado
ISBN: 0-87081-333-1

This is a big book — the result of an eleven-year project to update and chronicle the mammals of Colorado, and it’s complete with pictures and maps. It includes an abundance of information, everything you ever wanted to know about mammals.

But it doesn’t have an index.

If you want to find a deer mouse, you look under Rodentia in the table of contents, then run through the Sciuridae (Squirrels), which includes a bunch of Tamias, Spermophilus and Cynomys. Then move on through the Geomyidae (Pocket Gophers), and glance through the Heteromyidae, the Castoridae, the Muridae, into the Sigmodontinae (New World Rats and Mice) where you’ll find Peromyscus maniculatus — Deer Mouse. That may be a bother, but it’s actually pretty simple.

Woe be to those who don’t know the Order of the creature they’re seeking, however. Rodentia and Carnivora are simple enough, but Xenarthra? Perissodactyla? And what is the difference between Voles and Moles?

Their Order, of course.

I’m not sure what the authors expect you to do if you don’t have a clue as to the Family of a Lemming, and you’ve already exhausted your eyes reading through the Soricidae and Sciuridae. Presumably, however, they do not expect you to read through the text, because if they did they would make the text readable.

Instead, it’s in pure academese. As in, “The species in a community that exploit similar resources in similar ways compose an ecological guild. Visualizing communities of functional guilds often makes more ecological sense than visualizing a community organized taxonomically.” Or, “A mammal’s occurrence in a particular area is a consequence of history, geology, physiography, climate, and ecological relationships with plants and other animals. Geologic events have shaped the landscape. Physiography influences the occurrence of plant communities, which create historic and present barriers and corridors to movement. Climate can restrict a species at its limit of tolerance. Stochastic, or random, factors may play a role…”

The only amusing thing about this text is that such overwritten prose often leads to unintentional ambiguities, and this book teems with them. For example, “Riparian ecosystems of eastern Colorado are home to eastern species (such as eastern cottontails, fox squirrels, and white-tailed deer) that have moved westward along these moist corridors with their abundant food and cover.” So did those squirrels carry their food and tents in backpacks or wagons?

Or, “Grasslands evolved with fire and grazing by large and small mammals.” All right, but did those mammals use matches or lighters?

Although the makers of the book say that it’s intended for use by ordinary mortals, including pre-college students, amateur naturalists, farmers, and ranchers, the writing style suggests the authors are accustomed to prose written for a captive audience of indentured students.

Because I know numerous hungry writers — but not one who would have classified all of Colorado’s mammals without consulting experts — I found this book incredibly irritating. It should have been well-written.

But it isn’t. It’s tedious, repetitive, disorganized, and ungrammatical. But it is also full of information and pictures, and I’m glad to have it.

A book this big, with plenty of illustrations, that’s also a definitive reference relating information about every mammal in Colorado, has definite appeal.

In short, I wouldn’t recommend reading Mammals of Colorado, but it’s not a bad reference book. On the other hand, if you really need to find something in a hurry — try an encyclopedia first.

— M.Q.