After half a century, turtles rediscovered at Lone Star

As soon as Joe Collins heard that a turtle last spotted in the area 50 years ago might live in Lone Star Lake, he wanted traps set.

On Wednesday, Richard Sanders and Bruce Wolhuter of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks caught 11 common musk turtles for Collins, an expert on Kansas snakes, lizards, frogs and turtles.

The musk turtle spends most of its time trolling the bottom of lakes and rivers, eating dead things, said Collins, adjunct herpetologist for the Biological Survey at Kansas University.

“The turtles are fun. They are only about four to five inches in length,” he said.

The only time a common musk turtle was recorded in Douglas County was in the Kansas River more than 50 years ago, Collins said.

On Tuesday, he heard from Sanders and Wolhuter that the turtles might be around, and on Wednesday the trio checked the four traps they set at Lone Star Lake.

Joe Collins, an adjunct herpetologist with the Kansas Biological Survey, displays one of 11 common musk turtles that he and members of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks found Wednesday at Lone Star Lake. The turtles are the first of their kind to have been found in Douglas County in about 50 years, Collins said.

After the first two, they came away empty-handed, but they hit the jackpot with nine turtles in the third trap and two more in the fourth. Collins has kept four of the small turtles, and he will take them to the Kansas Herpetological Society’s annual meeting this weekend in Pittsburg.

Other turtle and wildlife enthusiasts can photograph the four turtles, and they will use one for research, Collins said.

“We need DNA out of this thing. This is the most northwest part of their range in the entire U.S.,” he said.

Their range includes most of the southern states, but the farthest west that they have been spotted is eastern Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Collins said he thought that probably thousands of common musk turtles have lived at the bottom of Lone Star Lake for decades, but because they lurk so far underwater, no one has noticed them.

“They’re so secretive. These are not turtles that basked upon logs,” he said. “They hang out in shallow water on mud bottoms.”

Apparently, the water had not gotten cold enough for them yet, so the 11 that he caught became active closer to the surface, Collins said.

While he said it might be too late in the season, Collins next year will look for more common musk turtles at many backwater ponds and in shallow water in the Kansas River and Clinton Lake.