By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Travis Taggart has known for years that he was destined to become a herpetologist -- ever since he picked up and carried around a bull snake that was larger than he was.

Not only did he get his photograph in the Pratt newspaper at the time he was carrying around that bull snake, but he also was getting plenty of attention, not all of it good to say the least.

He didn't mind the positive attention the snake brought, and he certainly didn't mind having the snake.

And never mind that it was a cantankerous bull snake.

"Most of it's a big bluff," he said of bull snakes, even though they will hiss and strike, they don't always bite.

That introduction to the world of herpetology, and that big bull snake, came when he was about 6 years old, and his fate was sealed forever.

He pored over herpetology guides, one day hoping to be the author of such a book.

Taggart's done that now, serving as associate curator of herpetology at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, and joining forces with Joe and Suzanne Collins, two former University of Kansas professors, to produce a treatise on "Amphibians, Reptiles and Turtles in Kansas."

While it's well documented, Taggart said the footnotes are included in the back of the book so they don't clutter up the text.

"It's not as technical as some and Joe purposefully wrote it that way," Taggart said of how the book was put together. The citations to scientific literature are all there, he said, but they've been moved to the back of the book.

"So if a person wants more information, it's there," Taggart said. "But it's not taking up room in the text."

It's the first full-blown book on Kansas herpetology in almost 20 years, and it's in full color.

It accomplishes Taggart's dream of cooperating on a major publication.

Ironically, he's already received a call from a friend in Colorado who sent along accolades on the book, and Taggart is still waiting for his copy of the final publication edition of the book.

He's seen early copies of the book, to be reviewed for any problems, but hasn't seen the absolute final version.

Taggart said he worked with the Collinses, preparing maps and adding to the text that Joe Collins authored. Photographs are from Suzanne Collins.

This time around, the 312-page book with nearly 500 color maps and photos, will detail 99 species of amphibians, reptiles and turtles in Kansas.

That's three more than were in the last book.

One is a Mediterranean gecko, an introduced species that has been found in Lenexa.

"They've been in the southeast for the last 50 years," Taggart said, adding that Oklahoma City was the closest spotting to Kansas.

There's also Fowler's toad, a far southeast Kansas specimen that might have been in the state for some time, but most likely is expanding its range out of either Missouri or Arkansas. It since has been found in Kansas.

The book also breaks out turtles as a distinct species, rather than as a type of reptile.

Because of underwriters, including Sternberg, the cost of the hardbound book will be $30.

"It's a pretty good deal," Taggart said, noting that comparable books would run from $50 to $80 each.

The book will be available at Sternberg's bookstore.