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Celebrate 'Home on the Range'
Wetland Explorer
Courtesy photo: Kansas Wetlands Education Center's resident Kansas Day symbols include a Barred Tiger Salamander and an Ornate Box Turtle

“How often at night, when the heavens are bright with the light of the glittering stars, have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed if their glory exceeds this of ours.” As Kansans we might not know the fifth verse of our state song by heart, but we are probably very familiar with several other symbols that make up the history of the 34th state.

In a recent conversation with some Kansas transplants, I realized that not all citizens celebrate their home states’ birthdays like we do here. January 29, 1861, has been recognized in many a Kansas classroom since this celebration of our state’s history began in a Paola grade school in 1877. From the first declared state symbol, The Great Seal of Kansas adopted in 1861 with its inspiring Ad Astra per Aspera motto, to the most recent inductees in 2018: state rock (limestone), state mineral (galena), state gemstone (Jelinite Amber), and state fish (Channel Catfish), state symbols are designed to showcase our natural treasures to the rest of the world.

The team at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center is getting ready to visit area schools to showcase our state wonders.

As the most visibly abundant turtle in Kansas, the Ornate Box Turtle makes a perfect candidate as the state reptile, especially as it carries the state colors of brown and yellow. Living for 30-50 years, this type of turtle can completely pull itself into the shell using a special hinge on the plastron, or bottom portion of the shell. You can even tell if a turtle is male or female just by looking at the color of its eyes. Boys have red eyes and girls are more yellow-brown.

KWEC also has several state amphibians you can visit in our classroom. Of the 31 species of amphibians in Kansas, the Barred Tiger Salamander is one of two found statewide. It is the only salamander found west of the Flint Hills. While fairly common, you may never get a glimpse of this colorful inhabitant. They often hide under leaves and bark, in animal burrows, or even cool, damp cellars. As an amphibian, they do need to make their way to water, including wetlands, to lay their eggs.

School groups will also get to hear the call from our state bird (Western Meadowlark), see the leaves of our tree (Cottonwood), inspect the life cycle of the insect (honeybee), touch the soft seed heads of the grass (Little Bluestem), taste the seeds of the flower (sunflower), and feel the hide of our state mammal (American Buffalo).

Did you know that Kansas has a state soil? Soil might even be considered our most valuable resource, as it supports our top industry, agriculture. It is what brought homesteaders to the state in the 19th century. As one of only seven states to have a named state soil, Kansas chose Harney Silt Loam because it possess the ideal qualities of a prairie soil. Covering 3,976,000 acres it is also the most extensive soil in the state.

Kansas has come a long way from once being covered by the salt water of the Permian Sea. But without that history, we wouldn’t have a state marine fossil (Tylosaurus) or official state flying fossil (Pteranodon). While Kansas will always be my Home on the Range, I’ll continue “to the stars through difficulties.”