Turtle of Concern in the Northeast
At only about 4 inches long, the bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) is North America's smallest turtle.
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—known as its carapace—give bog turtles an oblong appearance when viewed from above. These small, semi-aquatic turtles consume a varied diet of primarily insects, snails and worms.
Bog turtles usually occur in small, discrete populations, generally occupying open-canopy, unpolluted, herbaceous sedge meadows and fens bordered by wooded areas. Fens are freshwater, bog-like wetlands that are a mosaic of open and shrub habitats with grasses, sedges, and small spring-fed streams. Bog turtles depend upon this diversity of habitats for foraging, nesting, basking and hibernating.
The northern population of bog turtles ranges from New York and western Massachusetts south to Maryland.
The greatest threats to the bog turtle are the loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat from wetland alteration, development, pollution, invasive species and advanced plant growth. The species is also threatened by poaching—collection for illegal wildlife trade.
The bog turtle has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1997, when it was listed as a federally threatened species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversees the recovery of this species.
Working toward recovery
- The Service works with many partners toward habitat protection.
- The National Wildlife Refuge System allows the Service to protect habitat on federally owned properties, including Great Swamp, Wallkill River and Cherry Valley national wildlife refuges in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
- The Service also provides grant money to others, such as states and private organizations like The Nature Conservancy, to buy land for habitat.
- Service staff and biologists work to restore the water quality and open canopy habitats that are essential for the bog turtle.
- Open habitat was originally maintained by wildlife, fire and grazing, but now forests have grown up with invasive plants unsuitable for bog turtles.
- Service staff works with private landowners through the Partners for
Fish and Wildlife Program.
- Grants provided by the Service help states and landowners restore bog turtle habitat.
Monitoring and research
- The Service assists, through its field biologists and state grants, with the conservation of the endangered bog turtle by:
- Monitoring populations;
- Supporting research projects on habitat and living populations; and
- Understanding and improving the knowledge of the turtle's ecology to best work toward overall recovery.
Highlights of Northeast Region
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Law
- Officers are trained extensively on turtle species and work closely with state environment police officers. They investigate cases of habitat destruction and are involved with interstate commerce for the purpose of stopping pet trade collection.
New England Field Office
- Staff is planning habitat
restoration work in Connecticut
and Massachusetts and surveying
Connecticut to find more bog turtle
Cherry Valley and Wallkill River
National Wildlife Refuges
- Biologists are working with partner
organizations and volunteers to
conduct a mark-recapture study—a
strategy that monitors population
sizes—at Cherry Valley, along with
habitat restoration, tracking turtles
through radio telemetry, and invasive
- Cherry Valley is also surveying
refuge-owned lands for bog turtles
and will be adding new potential
Chesapeake Bay Field Office
- Biologists are using goats to maintain
wetlands through managed grazing.
For a few months in 2008, 19 goats
were placed on a 5-acre bog turtle
site in Carroll County to control
unwanted vegetation, including the
invasive multiflora rose.
- Partners include a private
landowner, the USDA-Natural
Resources Conservation Service,
and the Environmental Defense Fund. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture holds a permanent
easement for the wetland portion of this property.
- Learn more: Chesapeake Bay Field Office
- Additional projects through
the Coastal Program and the
Endangered Species Program
with private landowners and other
- Installing fences on 6 acres at
two sites in Maryland and a
3-acre site in Delaware to protect
these sites from overgrazing.
- Working with a Maryland
landowner and USDA-NRCS
to protect 30 acres of bog turtle
habitat through the Wetland
- Prioritizing 65 bog turtle sites in
Maryland for future restoration
efforts based on population size,
reproduction and connectivity to
other bog turtle sites.
- Learn more: Chesapeake Bay Field Office
New Jersey Field Office
- Biologists with the Partners for Fish
and Wildlife Program are working
with the Conservation Wildlife
Foundation. More than 80 percent
of New Jersey land is privately
owned, so partnership with private
landowners is essential to help
improve bog turtle habitat.
- Projects include placing electrical
fencing around privately owned
lands. Cows, sheep and goats control
vegetation to help eliminate invasive
plant species, including reed canary
grass and phragmites. This results
in 15 acres of habitat restoration per
- Biologists also work with the State
of New Jersey Endangered and
Nongame Species Program for
habitat restoration. They work to
create more open-canopy nesting
habitat by removing some red maple
trees and poison sumac shrubs
through mechanical and herbicide
removal methods. These are native
species with dominating, invasive
- Learn more: Bog Turtle Habitat Restoration Video
New York Field Office
- Service biologists work with partners
for habitat restoration, including
prescribed grazing projects with
private landowners and funds from
- The New England Field Office is
working with veterinarians from
the Wildlife Conservation Society's
Bronx Zoo as they conduct health
assessments of bog turtles in
Massachusetts and New York.
- This office also works with
contractors for bog turtle
conservation and recovery.
- A doctoral student recently
created assessment models
at different sites that will tell
whether a site can be suitable
habitat over a long period of
- Another partner is working to
identify new sites for potential
habitat, assist in landowner
outreach efforts, supervise new
projects and conduct population
- With help from the Great
Lakes Restoration Initiative,
two professors from the State
University of New York are
finding more suitable habitat for
The Service is dedicated to the
conservation and recovery of the bog
turtle and continues to work with
partners to protect and restore habitat,
curb poaching and learn more about
North America's smallest turtle.
Juvenile bog turtle with yolk sack still attached. Credit: Rosie Walunas/USFWS
Juvenile bog turtle. Credit: Rosie Walunas/USFWS
Bog turtle survey team. Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS
Bog turtle. Credit: R.G. Tucker Jr.
Bog turtle. Credit: USFWS
An example of bog turtle habitat. Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS