Eulogy to Dr. John M. Legler

by Dr. R. Vogt 

At 11pm on 28 March 2014 the turtle community lost one of the foremost living turtle biologists in the world, Dr. John M. Legler.  John is best known for four main turtle projects: his doctoral research with Terrapene ornata in Kansas, his research of turtles throughout Mexico and Central America, culminating in The life History of the Slider Turtle (1971) and The Turtles of Mexico (2013), and his research with turtles of Australia which was in preparation at his untimely death. 

Legler described new species of tortoises and freshwater turtles from both North and Central America and Australia:  Gopherus flavomarginatus from Mexico, Kinosternon angustipons from Panama, Trachemys scripta taylori  and Trionyx ater from Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila, Mexico, a new genus of Australian Turtle – Rheodytes – as well as other species of Australian turtles.   In addition he described a subspecies of snake, Geophis and a frog was named after him.

His main contributions to turtle conservation were the techniques he developed which saved the unnecessary slaughter of countless numbers of turtles to obtain stomach contents for dietary studies and eggs for incubation studies.  With his son Austin, they developed a technique while in Australia to flush out stomach contests of turtles without causing life threatening damage to the turtle. John and Mike Ewert developed and published the technique of inducing oviposition in gravid turtles by the injection of oxytocin.

In addition to his life as a turtle biologist, Dr. Legler was an Emeritus Professor in the Biology Department at the University of Utah, where he had taught human anatomy for decades. In honor of his high teaching standards, the Legler Chair of Anatomy was created by the University in 2010. John was an avid trout fisherman and tied his own flies.  He won medals as an Olympic swimmer, and still swam every day up to a few months before his death.  He also painted gourds and built his own straw bale building at his ranch in the mountains of Montana near a trout stream. 

I first met Dr. Legler at the Turtle Ecology Symposium at the ASIH meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1976, and our 38 years of camaraderie will be sorely missed. A festschrift in his honor was held at the 2010 ASIH meetings in Minneapolis, Minnesota, his home town; all but one of his former students participated. He delivered the key note address at the TSA meeting at St. Louis in 2013, and with a twinkle in his eye showed us a unique undescribed gland in the esophagus of a chelid turtle! A full review of his life and work will be published in Herpetological Review and Copeia forthwith.


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