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.