Vivarium Life by Alfred Leutscher

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 15.39.56This is the book that started me off in zoology, first with a burning interest in amphibians and reptiles. I found it in the local library, along with a couple of elementary books on biology, and remained glued to it, renewing the loan as necessary or re-borrowing it until I was bought a copy for my birthday. It had to be ordered from Sisson and Parker’s bookshop in Nottingham and must have arrived after my birthday since my mother wrote September 1958 along with my name and address inside the front cover. It was published in 1952 by Cleaver-Hume Press (later incorporated into Macmillan).

With hindsight, it is not a very good book but it was the only one I could get my hands on (Maxwell Knight’s book, Keeping Reptiles and Fishes, appeared in the library somewhat later). Vivarium Life is a curious book, because it describes the animals and plants that might be found in vivaria and aquaria but contains very little information on how to keep them. One very curious omission is that of mealworms, then the only commercially-available food, apart from maggots used as fishing bait, for lizards and frogs.

Sadly, Vivarium Life was the butt of a number of jokes because of the quality of the drawings by Humphrey Dakeyne. Some were good, some acceptable and some were completely wrong, that of the Surinam Toad being an example of the last category. I suspect Dakeyne had never seen a live, nor a properly mounted museum specimen of many of the animals he was asked to draw.

These points were picked up in an anonymous review of the book in the Aquarist (December 1952, volume17, number 9):


A second edition of Vivarium Life was published in 1961. I will consider the changes to that edition in a later post.

I perpetuated an error from the book when writing about the Goliath Frog. Leutscher had its scientific name as Conrana goliath. That looked logical; frogs were Rana so Conrana looked alright. Only some years later did I realise that the correct generic name was Conraua, for Gustav Conrau, and had nothing to do with Rana at all.

Later, Leutscher wrote another book, Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians, that was of more practical use. I will write more on this book later but there were, again, curious omissions.

The Leutschers were originally Swiss Mennonites who had emigrated to Holland to escape religious persecution in 1711. Alfred George Leutscher was born on 30 October 1913 in Wanstead, then in Essex but now part of north-east London, to Izaak Leutscher (1886-1976) and his wife, Lammechien Hendriken Huizinga (1886-1970). Both of his parents were born in the Netherlands and married there in 1912. They appeared to have been in Wanstead for the rest of their lives. Alfred was one of four children. His brother, a sergeant pilot in the RAF, was killed in 1942.

He married Phyllis Muriel Carter in 1940. In the 1960s they lived at 24 Overton Drive, Wanstead. She died in 1969 and in 1971 he married Barbara Joan Farr who predeceased him. Alfred died in 1992.

Alfred Leutscher was an honours graduate of the University of London. In 1951 (about the time he must have been writing Vivarium Life) he was appointed Guide Lecturer at what is now the Natural History Museum; he was later described as Senior Guide Lecturer. At the time he wrote Vivarium Life, Alfred Leutscher was Secretary of the British Herpetological Society which had been founded in 1947. The Scotsman reported on 2 November 1950:

Many of the London members [of the BHS] have snakes in their gardens. The secretary of the main body, Mr Alfred Leutscher, even keeps six in his suburban flat, including an aesculapian…

Also in 1950, the Evening Telegraph had a report of residents of the Romney Marshes in Kent complaining about the croaking of the introduced Marsh Frogs (then Rana ribibunda, now Pelophylax ribibundus). Leutscher is quoted as saying: The noise made by the male frogs in the mating season, which has now begun, is certainly considerable and likely to disturb anybody’s sleep.

Leutscher was an active field naturalist and teacher. His entry in the 1971 Author’s and Writer’s Who’s Who shows him as President of the British Naturalists’ Association and a member of the Wildlife Youth Service as well as a member of the Authors’ Club. There are a number of references online to his participation as a lecturer in courses, to his encouragement of young naturalists in Epping Forest and to his records, of glow-worms held in jam-jars used to light tents, for example.

He wrote, co-authored or translated a number of books after Vivarium Life, a number of which were aimed at young naturalists. There is a list at the bottom of this post.

I never met Alfred Leutscher. I hoped to when I joined the British Herpetological Society in 1961 and attended a meeting in London that summer. I was told that he rarely attended. I find though that I am not the only one who was enthused by Vivarium Life. Terry Thatcher was a main player in Britain in the rapid advances in reptile breeding and husbandry that occurred during the 1970s, as others in continental Europe and in the USA realised and demonstrated that reptiles would breed in captivity. In his website Terry writes: A gem I discovered was Vivarium Life by Alfred Leutscher, first published in 1952. It was rarely in the library because I was constantly scanning the black and white pages…

While researching this article I came across reference to Leutscher’s explanation of the mystery of the The Devil’s Hoofmarks that appeared in the snow in Devon in 1855. There will be more on this in my other blog, Zoology Jottings.

This is a photograph of Alfred Leutscher (Water Life and Aquaria World, January-February 1952):

Alfred Leutscher

Alfred Leutscher

The book can be downloaded here or the Downloads page above:
Vivarium Life


Zoology Jottings:
Terry Thatcher:

Books, in addition to Vivarium Life (which also appeared as Le Vivarium in a French edition published by Payot in 1953), written, co-authored or translated by Alfred Leutscher include: Tracks and Signs of British Animals (1960). Animal Camouflage (1961), Wonderful World of Nature—Reptiles, Reptiles and Amphibians, an Introduction (1957), A study of reptiles and amphibians, including their care as pets (1963), Curious World of Snakes (1963), Life in Fresh Waters (1964), Field Natural History—A Guide to Ecology (1969), Tropical Aquarium Fishes by Nieuwenhuizen (translator, 1960), The Young Specialist Looks at Reptiles (1969), Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe by Hellmich (English editor, 1962), Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals (1971), The Ecology of Water Life (1971), The Ecology of Woodlands (1971), The Marshland (1972), The River (1972), The Pond (1972), Badgers (1973), Deer (1973), Squirrels (1973), Woodpeckers (1973), Seashore (1975), Epping Forest: Its History and Wildlife (1975), The Ecology of Towns (1975), Mammals (1975), How to Begin the Study of Reptiles and Amphibians (1975), Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians (1976), The Ecology of Woodlands (1977), The Ecology of Mountains (1978), Prehistoric Monsters (1981), A Field Guide to the British Countryside (1981), A Walk Through the Seasons (1981), Pond Life (1982), Prehistoric Man, Water (1983), Earth (1984), Flowering Plants (1984). In 2009, his early book on animal tracks was republished with a co-author as Animal Tracks and Signs—a mere 17 years after his death.

NOTE ADDED 29 March 2018

This book was sold through Facebook recently. It was signed by Leutscher and there was a letter inside to to James Clarence Battersby (1901-1993), herpetologist on the technical staff, also working at the British Museum. This was Battersby’s copy. The use of the term ‘Mr Battersby’ is an interesting reflection of the time.

Leutscher Letter



3 thoughts on “Vivarium Life by Alfred Leutscher

  1. Pingback: Water Life: Herpetology Articles in Volumes 4 and 6, 1938 and 1939 . Downloads Available | Reptiles, Amphibians and Birds: A Historical Perspective of their Care in Captivity

  2. Pingback: Water Life and Aquaria World 1950-53. Some History and a Download of Extracts of Articles on Herpetology | Reptiles, Amphibians and Birds: A Historical Perspective of their Care in Captivity

  3. Pingback: Water Life Magazine 1936-58: Part 17. The First Post-War Issues from 1946 | Reptiles, Amphibians and Birds: A Historical Perspective of their Care in Captivity

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