Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lawrence reptile, amphibian expert dies at age 72

January 17, 2012


A Lawrence expert on reptiles and amphibians who inspired many young people to pursue their own careers in herpetology died from a heart attack Saturday in Florida at age 72.

Joseph Collins worked at Kansas University’s Natural History Museum from the late 1960s to 1997, and later attained the title of adjunct herpetologist at the Kansas Biological Survey, though his highest level of formal education was an associate’s degree.

He still published many books on reptiles and amphibians, and helped found herpetological societies that served Kansas and the nation.

“He was a great mentor of students,” said his wife, Suzanne Collins, who often accompanied him in the field to take photos of animals. “Not only small children but adult graduate students, too. He was very passionate about his field.”

Curtis Schmidt, zoological collections manager at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, said he was one of Collins’ “semi-adopted children,” who accompanied him on trips all over the country to find various species of reptiles and amphibians.

Schmidt said he first met Collins through the Kansas Herpetological Society “at the ripe old age of 12” and remained close friends with him until his death. Growing up, Schmidt said he had read some of Collins’ books, including “Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas.” Collins also co-wrote the “Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America.”

William E. Duellman, a retired professor and curator of KU’s Natural History Museum, said he hired Collins in 1968. He said he admired Collins for his hard work.

“He was all over the state,” Duellman said. “He talked with lots and lots of people, schools and Scout troops. This was an outreach of sorts at the university.”

Plans for a memorial service in Lawrence are pending.


njbaker 6 years, 5 months ago

How sad. My son - now 21 and in the Air Force - grew up with one of Joe Collins' books of Kansas snakes in his pocket. He had to keep in handy for his adventures around the neighborhood, through the local parks, and around Tuttle Creek Reservoir just in case he came across something he needed to identify before picking it up. He got to visit the KU Museum and meet Joe Collins when he was about 8 or 9 and was allowed to handle many of the snakes. Joe Collins was quoted repeatedly in the months that followed that visit and was revered by my son from that point on. Thanks, Joe!

prairie_rattler 6 years, 5 months ago

"“He was all over the state,” Duellman said. “He talked with lots and lots of people, schools and Scout troops. This was an outreach of sorts at the university.”"

A laughable understatement.. With respect to the North American herpetofauna, Joe was the heart, soul, and face of the KU Museum of Natural History. Joe was an accomplished scientist foremost, but his greatest gift was his ability and desire to make science more digestible to a broad audience.

Ken Lassman 6 years, 5 months ago

wow. The herpetology field lost a true giant on Saturday. His enthusiasm was not only infectious for the young; the website is arguably one of the best scientific websites in the business. His emphasis on getting the information out freely should be the model and it definitely has benefitted the Herpetology profession.

We'll miss you, Joe!

Joe Blackford II 6 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for your dedication & guidance to generations of Kansans. RIP Mr. Collins

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

Joe was more than a great herpetologist. He was a great guy. He will be missed.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 5 months ago

Yes, indeed. Joe and I were friends back in the early 80s before life took us in different directions. (And our friendship had nothing to do with herpetology!) I've always had nothing but fond thoughts of him. 72 is waaaay too young to die.

TheEleventhStephanie 6 years, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

thepianoman 6 years, 5 months ago

WOW. I am stunned and deeply saddened by this. Joe taught KS Amphibians and Reptiles at Washburn. I took his course in 2004. I loved it. He made learning so much fun and exciting. It was one of those classes you looked forward to. I remember taking field trips to area lakes and wooded areas where we captured Copperheads and Timbers.

Of all the information and knowledge he shared, a couple things I've not forgotten...

1) Not to fear snakes. They weren't put on this earth to kill us or inflict panic and fear. The ONLY time they attack is if they're provoked or feel threatened. Simply leave them alone if at all possible. Society tends to demonize these creatures.

2) That if you are bitten by a venomous try to remain calm.....The more you panic, the faster your heart pumps the venom throughout your system....Easier said than done I suppose! LOL.

3) NOBODY...NOBODY..... in Kansas has EVER died from a venemous snake bite..according to Joe.....I remember him talking about this...In fact, if a person receives appropriate treatment in a timely manner...recovery is 100%...most of the time.....Again, when we hear about venemous snake bites we tend to think gloom and doom..

I am an usher at KU basketball games and still talked to Joe when he and Susan came to KU basketball games. It was fun hearing his latest snake ventures in Florida and/or Kansas. Sounds like he (and Susan) was keeping pretty busy.

Anyway, RIP Joe, and I truly enjoyed and appreciated everything you taught me about KS Amphbians and Reptiles. It's hard to believe you're gone.....

Susan, my thoughts and prayers are with you during this time. Joe touched many lives. He will never be forgotten!

CHKNLTL 6 years, 5 months ago

Joe was one of the most wonderful people I have had the opportunity to serve in my life. Anytime I was having a rough day, he had humor to offer or advice to share. His spirit was seldom down, and thus his presence could lift my spirits, too. He was so enthusiastic about whatever organization or event he had scheduled for each day, even if it was only taking his wife and her mother out for a day of shopping. I'm glad at least, that he got to go to Florida one last time, as he went every winter to enjoy the beautiful weather there with Suzanne. He was a regular at my coffeehouse, and my morning and afternoon will seem a little empty for a while without him. My condolences go out to his family and friends.

IdahoWinds 6 years, 5 months ago

Joe was an excellent example of someone in "academia" without a Ph.D. doing well. I think there were those with Ph.D.s that were jealous of his success...not by theoretical, scientific articles that he wrote (which he did not), but by his ability to reach the public. The almost endless number of coffee table books that Joe and many co-authors wrote will make a much greater impact on the public than any theoretical scientific article in Science magazine. Joe was excellent at getting people's attention and changing their attitudes towards snakes, and other creatures! He served a real valuable service to community and he will be missed. RIP, Joe.

riverdrifter 6 years, 5 months ago

Joe is the reason that I carry snake tongs in my vehicle to rescue snakes off roadways. I'll never forget the time he found that alligator snapping turtle down by Coffeyville and brought it to his lab for a time before releasing it back where he found it. That thing was gigantic and I believe it is the only one ever documented in Kansas. It's fitting that it was Joe who got wind of it being seen and hustled down there and found it. He will be missed.

Lukas Warden 6 years, 5 months ago

We will always love you Joe. I sure wish I would have got to see you just one more time.

rgibler 6 years, 5 months ago

He loved what he did. He loved people, and never tired of talking about reptiles. A very pleasant man, with a constant upbeat attitude. There was always a story to be told of a youngster that was amazed by a snake. Joe, you will be missed!

SeaBee 6 years, 5 months ago

I worked for Joe (back then we called him Tom) in 1976-77 at the Natural History Museum. Since then I've been a co-author on several publications with him.

I've considered him a friend for all these years and a tremendous advocate for natural history awareness in Kansas.

I'll miss him greatly but I'll be comforted by the fact that his knowledge and enthusiasm will live on through his published works and mentored students.

RIP Joe! You will not be forgotten.

gutenberg 6 years, 5 months ago

Into the Mud (a poem about hibernation) BY JOYCE SIDMAN

Sun slant low, chill seeps into black water. No more days of bugs and basking. Last breath, last sight of light and down I go, into the mud. Every year, here, I sink and settle, shuttered like a shed.  Inside, my eyes close, my heart slows to its winter rhythm.  Goodbye, goodbye! Remember the warmth.  Remember the quickness. Remember me. Remember.

I'm not so sure that Joe was born but rather hatched from an egg.

Too, I'm not so sure that Joe is gone, but rather molted and shed his skin.

His kind eyes, gentle nature, passionate scholarship, and love for our natural world will long be remembered...and put to good use.

We are all in this together. Remember to take care of the little ones.

Joe sure did.

Fare well, old friend.   

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