Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide


By Victoria Schlesinger, introduction by Carlos Galindo-Leal, illustrated by Juan C. Chab-Medina

University of Texas Press, 2002

From the back cover…

A growing interest in all things Maya brings an increasing number of visitors to prehistoric Maya ruins and contemporary Maya communities in Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, western Honduras, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the southern areas of Chiapas and Tabasco, Mexico. For these visitors and indeed everyone with an interest in the Maya, this field guide highlights nearly 100 species of plants and animals that were significant to the ancient Maya and that continue to inhabit the Maya region today.

Drawing from the disciplines of biology, ecology, and anthropology, Victoria Schlesinger describes each plant or animal’s habitat and natural history, identifying characteristics (also shown in a black-and-white drawing), and cultural significance to the ancient and contemporary Maya. An introductory section explains how to use the book and offers a concise overview of the history, lifeways, and cosmology of the ancient Maya. The concluding section describes the collapse of ancient Maya society and briefly traces the history of the Maya region from colonial times to the present.

“Part field guide, part book of vignettes discussing the animals and plants most commonly seen in the Maya area, this fine guide provides a fresh synthesis of anthropological and biological research that will serve as an engaging and practical resource for visitors, students, and burgeoning naturalists.”–– Paul R. Ehrlich, Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University


“…Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide balances on the boundary between science and tourism – providing a fascinating hodgepodge of ecological, biological, archaeological, and anthropological information …”

– Dr. Kitty Emery, Latin American Antiquity

“It would be a rare reader who remained unmoved by the inhabitants of this biosphere, rejoicing for the survivors, but mourning the losses.”

– John F. Swenson, Master Gardener, Chicago Botanic Garden

“One of the best books of the past year, this work combines the details of a scientific field guide with anthropological research. The result is outstanding.”

– Ron Mader, founder of, Latin America ecotourism

“…an impressive synthesis of ecological and anthropological information… I find that the book is meticulously researched and accurate – the information is presented clearly and with flair.”

– David Casagrande, Journal of Ecological Anthropology