A descriptive chronicle of herpetological fieldwork in Madagascar, from naturalist Heying.
Madagascar’s unique biota, of which 90% are endemic, is a naturalist’s dream. Heying went there to study brightly colored poisonous frogs, but also to “tweak her world”—to gain some perspective on life on the other side of the world. What she delivers here, aside from unexpectedly fascinating material on the sexual selection that goes on in the world of poisonous frogs, is a sense of what it’s like to live and work daily in a place so fundamentally different from her university life back in Ann Arbor. It proves to be laden with incident, whether it’s simply observing a woman carrying a basket of ducks on her head, caring for injuries received from lemurs, rectifying the theft of her property at camp, or dealing with the naked sailors who come to bathe in the fresh water of the island where she’s conducting her research. Heying’s curiosity and openness allow her to gain a new sense of time—there’s an abundance of it in Madagascar, and her homegrown standards don’t apply—as well as a new diet: “It would be an absurd understatement to suggest that rice is the staple of the Malagasy diet.” The author brings a neat-fingered writing to her scientific findings and the same to stories of fashioning a toilet seat or whipping up a forest risotto. Without walking on tiptoe, she also tries to avoid being the ham-handed foreigner foisting her cultural biases on Malagasy ways.
A skillful example of notes from the field: lively, discerning, and full of an ingrained enthusiasm for science. (8-page color photo insert, not seen)