EXHIBITS: Life Between Two Continents

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Science  08 Oct 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5694, pp. 205
DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5694.205c

“Out of print, out of mind” doesn't apply to the Biologia Centrali-Americana, a mammoth encyclopedia on Mesoamerica originally released between 1879 and 1915. Stuffed with facts and images and still consulted by ecologists, systematists, and other researchers, the compendium remains the only comprehensive survey for some groups of organisms that inhabit the region. Just eight libraries hold the full series, but a new site from the Smithsonian Institution lets you browse all 58 volumes dealing with natural history.

The text profiles more than 50,000 species, including nearly 20,000 that were new to science at the time. Top experts penned many of the accounts, packing them with observations, as in this description of the cougar (Felis concolor): “In Costa Rica Dr. v. Frantzius says it is found in the upper belt of the primaeval forests … where the hideous sound of its howling is almost continuously heard in the breeding-season.” The nearly 1700 sumptuous illustrations include a painting of a squirrel monkey reaching out to bat away a bee.


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