Sternberg curator receives grant to study amphibians turtles, reptiles in South Dakota's Black Hills

Joseph T. Collins, adjunct curator of herpetology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University, and adjunct herpetologist with the Kansas Biological Survey at the University of Kansas, has been awarded a $10,500 grant from the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks to conduct a diversity survey of amphibians, reptiles, and turtles found in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota.

"Amphibians, turtles, and reptiles are a significant part of the Black Hills ecosystem, and their distribution, habitat, and abundance are not fully understood in this region," said Collins, who has written or co-written 23 books on amphibians, turtles, reptiles, fishes, and other wildlife, including the Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America.

"Our goal is to investigate the diversity of these animals so that we can better protect them and their environment in the future," said Collins. Amphibians, turtles, and reptiles can be sensitive indicators of environmental health. By learning about the habitat needs of the Black Hills herpetofauna, any future environmental damage in that region can be monitored and minimized.

Collins and his wife, Suzanne L. Collins, a noted professional wildlife photographer, will be joined by his brother, Jerry D. Collins, an experienced field herpetologist from Ohio, as well as some colleagues and former students on the project in South Dakota. They are Travis W. Taggart and Curtis J. Schmidt, curators of herpetology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University, Jay Kirk, Friends University, Wichita, Michael Rochford, a senior at Kansas State University, John Stoklosa, a senior at the University of Kansas, and Andrew Sindorf, a senior at Eudora High School.

The project is funded in part by a State Wildlife Grant from the Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, & Parks.

"Suzanne and I are ready to get out in the field and see what is there," said Collins. "Custer State Park contains many interesting species, particularly the Redbelly Snake and Smooth Green Snake. I think we can begin to fill some gaps in our knowledge about those snakes in the Black Hills," said Collins.

Collins, who is also director of The Center for North American Herpetology in Lawrence, pointed out that "this grant represents a significant effort by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks to focus on the biodiversity of these creatures in their state."

"Selected specimens taken during the field work will be deposited in the research collection at the Sternberg Museum and will become a very important component of future studies on these creatures, not only in South Dakota, but throughout the Great Plains," said Collins.

"The DNA material will provide researchers across the nation with much needed information for their studies, and will enhance our understanding of these animals not only in South Dakota, but across their range," he said.

For more information, contact: Joseph T. Collins (785) 749-3467 or

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