Kansas Herpetological Society Field Trips

Neosho County or Bust (April 25-27)

Outdoor experiences have and continue to inspire and enhance our interest in the biological sciences.  Unlike many of you I grew up in Kansas City without access to a diverse fauna and flora.  I do remember playing in a neighborhood creek and collecting crinoid fossils from behind what was Milgram’s Groceries at state line and 103rd.  My most memorable natural experiences derive from our annual family canoe trips in the pristine and protected waters of southern Missouri.  I would hound my father to canoe ahead of everyone else and steer me from one bank to the other so that I would have the best chance of observing and capturing the common map turtles that are frequently found basking on logs along the shore. 

If we want to inspire and motivate our students, we need to facilitate similar experiences (even James Watson began with an interest in ornithology).   Participation in the Kansas Herpetological Societies annual spring and fall field trips can provide an avenue for providing such experiences.

I became aware of the Kansas Herpetological Society in the mid-1990’s, after being told about the society by Dr. David Edds, an Emporia State ecology professor.  After spending a few years getting acquainted with the society, I began drumming up interest among my students, and by the end of the decade I was checking out one of our school’s nine passenger vans and taking students on the societies annual spring and fall herp trips.  For those less familiar with the activity of ‘herping’, the process is simple and requires two basic physical skills; walking and flipping rocks.

You can find out about the society at the KHS website.  The trips are held in one particular county each spring or fall, have historically ranged all over the state’s biogeographic regions, and are open to interested individuals (you don’t have to be a member of the society).  I have taken students as far as away as Morton County in the southwest and a nearby as Miami County directly to my south (I teach in JO).  You can view the pictoral history of my student’s experiences through pdf slideshows made with the free Adobe Photoshop Album Starter.  This year’s trip is to the lovely lands of Neosho County.

The typical trip proceeds something like the following:

  1. Drive to an interesting county in Kansas on a Friday after school
  2. Set up camp and meet the camping KHS membership
  3. Meet KHS and local community members usually by 9 am Saturday morning for the Field Trip Coordinators briefing on the days plans
  4. Herp on site or caravan to site(s) and Herp until lunchtime
  5. Eat lunch at camp
  6. Return to Herping at a new site until dinner time
  7. Eat dinner at an interesting local establishment
  8. Road cruise whether permitting
  9. Hang out around a camp fire
  10. Wake up and complete steps 3 and 4 again until noon on Sunday
  11. Drive home

Well, I must stay that the experiences we have had on these trip is unforgetable, and students learn a great deal of authentic biology as well as general life skills.  Students may find and handle their first snake, become aware of the biological and geological diversity of this supposedly boring state, learn some basic camping skills, learn map orientation skills when we road cruise until the wee hours of the morning, and meet a group of other students and a society of people with similar interests.  They might even get lucky enough to practice extracting keys from inside a locked van, listen to and discuss the variety of opinions on whether or not turtles should be classified in their own order, and observe me trying to capture an armadillo by hand.  I still haven’t been successful but its fun when they jump up and race away.  If only I had more time in the field with one of our most distinguished and knowledgeable members (see him capturing a porcupine by hand).

Two concerns that you might have and that I have had over the years involve collecting specimens and the safety of my students.  I personally don’t allow students to collect pets on the trip, even if they legally can (I maintain enough live specimens in my class to help fulfill their desires indirectly).  If you need more information, you should familiarize yourself with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks rules and regulations for collecting non-game wildlife. 

With regard to safety, which obviously involves perparing students for the possibility of coming in contact with venomous snakes, I required students to remain within verbal and visual distance of me and they are restricted from picking up any brown snake or snakes that they can’t identified with confidence.  I do not allow students to handle venomous snakes (even with appropriate equipment and knowledge), and tend not to handle them myself.  There are plenty of experienced snake handlers who will undoubtedly find venomous snakes (if they are to be found) and show them to those interested in a safe manner.

If this kind of opportunity sounds interesting to you but you still have questions feel free to contact me.  I am the current treasurer for the society and my contact information is publicized on their website.  Furthermore, students are welcome whether or not they are accompanied by a teacher.  So if you aren’t interested but you have students that are interested please make them aware of this opportunity.



Author: Eric Kessler

I am a high school teacher in the Blue Valley School District who has taught a Bioscience Research course at the district's Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) since 2010. Previous to this teaching gig I was at Blue Valley North High School where I taught freshman Biology and Honors Biology, Field Biology, Zoology, and AP Biology for the past 18 years.