The Bog Turtle
The Tiny Bog Turtle
The bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) is the smallest turtle found in the United States. The largest bog turtle ever found measured only 4.5 inches. Bog turtles are easily identified by the patches of orange found along the side of their heads.
Bog turtles are one of the most rare turtles found in the United States. Laws banning the collection of the turtles for sale have done little to stop the practice with bog turtles being a prized species in many animal black markets.
Bog turtle populations are divided into two distinct populations separated by a 250-mile distance. The northern populations found in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland are listed as threatened. The southern populations found in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are listed as threatened due to similarity of appearance.
Current bog turtle population is unknown, but estimates range from 2,500 to 10,000. Invasive plants such as the purple loosestrife can dry out large areas of suitable habitat. Purple loosestrife grows in large, compact clumps that are impenetrable to the turtle, restricting its movement.
Bog turtles are extremely sensitive to the effects of global warming. The turtle’s survival is closely tied to its delicate habitat. Erratic weather patterns resulting from global warming will disrupt the fragile balance key to the turtle’s survival. By altering hydrological cycles, global warming will either dry out or flood the turtle’s habitat.
In addition to bog turtles needing a very specific habitat, much of the remaining habitat in the Northeast has been fragmented apart by roads and development. As the changing climate alters the availability of the turtle’s current habitat, they will have very limited ability to migrate to places that could be more suitable.
The Bog Turtle was federally listed as a threatened species in 1997.
At only about 4 inches long, the Bog Turtle is one of North America’s smallest Turtles. This species typically shows a bright yellow, orange, or red blotch on each side of the head. The nearly parallel sides of the upper shell (carapace) give Bog Turtles an oblong appearance when viewed from above. These small, semi-aquatic Turtles consume a varied diet including insects, snails, worms, seeds, and carrion.
Habitat of The Bog Turtle
Bog Turtles usually occur in small, discrete populations, generally occupying open-canopy, herbaceous sedge meadows and fens bordered by wooded areas. These wetlands are a mosaic of micro-habitats that include dry pockets, saturated areas, and areas that are periodically flooded. Bog Turtles depend upon this diversity of micro-habitats for foraging, nesting, basking, hibernating, and sheltering. Unfragmented riparian (river) systems that are sufficiently dynamic to allow the natural creation of open habitat are needed to compensate for ecological succession. Beaver, deer, and cattle may be instrumental in maintaining the open-canopy wetlands essential for this species’ survival.
The Bog Turtle inhabits open, unpolluted emergent and scrub/shrub wetlands such as shallow spring-fed fens, sphagnum bogs, swamps, marshy meadows, and wet pastures. These habitats are characterized by soft muddy bottoms, interspersed wet and dry pockets, vegetation dominated by low grasses and sedges, and a low volume of standing or slow-moving water which often forms a network of shallow pools and rivulets. Bog Turtles prefer areas with ample sunlight, high evaporation rates, high humidity in the near-ground microclimate, and perennial saturation of portions of the ground. Eggs are often laid in elevated areas, such as the tops of tussocks. Bog Turtles generally retreat into more densely vegetated areas to hibernate from mid-September through mid-April.
The greatest threats to the Bog Turtle are the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of its habitat from wetland alteration, development, pollution, invasive species, and natural vegetational succession. The species is also threatened by collection for illegal wildlife trade.
Projects in and adjacent to bog turtle habitat can cause habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation. Of critical importance is evaluating the potential direct and indirect effects of activities that occur in or are proposed for upland areas adjacent to bog turtle habitat. Even if the wetland impacts from an activity are avoided (i.e., the activity does not result in encroachment into the wetland),activities in adjacent upland areas can seriously compromise wetland habitat quality, fragment travel corridors, and alter wetland hydrology, thereby adversely affecting bog turtles.
I Found A Bog Turtle Now What?
If you have found a Bog Turtle, immediately make note of the location and contact Fish and Wildlife authorities for your area for information on what to do to make sure this little ones don't parish forever.