Year of the Turtle
Northeast Region

Chesapeake Bay Field Office works with private landowners to restore bog turtle 

Juvenile bog turtle with yolk sack still attached. Credit: Rosie Walunas/USFWS
Juvenile bog turtle with yolk sack still attached. Credit: Rosie Walunas/USFWS

The bog turtle is one of North America's smallest turtles with a light brown to ebony carapace, a bright orange, yellow or red blotch on the side of the head and neck, and a yellow plastron with black patches.

The northern population of the bog turtle extends from western Massachusetts to northern Maryland and Delaware. Despite this fairly extensive distribution, the bog turtle is limited to a specific and rare type of wetland.

Saturated, spring-fed wetlands such as bogs, fens, wet meadows, sedge marshes and pastures with thick mucky organic soils provide the habitat these turtles require for feeding, breeding and hibernation. These wetlands are dominated by low grasses and sedges with a mix of shrub species.

The bog turtle was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997 due to excessive collection for the pet trade and loss of the unique wetlands on which they depend. The collection of bog turtles has diminished since its listing, but loss of these rare wetlands still occurs. Development, woody plant succession and encroachment of invasive plants all contribute to loss of bog turtle habitat.

More than 97 percent of bog turtle wetlands occur on private lands, so recovery of this species depends heavily on private landowners. Since 1997, various habitat restoration techniques have been completed at 17 wetlands on private lands in Maryland totaling more than 150 acres.

Through the Coastal and Endangered Species programs, the Chesapeake Bay Field Office is working with private landowners and other partners to protect and restore bog turtles and the wetlands they need. Current activities include:   

  • Installing fences on six acres at two sites in Maryland and on one three-acre site in Delaware to protect these sites from overgrazing;

  • Controlling hardwood vegetation from encroaching into 13 acres of bog turtle wetlands at three Maryland sites;

  • Working with a Maryland landowner and the Natural Resource Conservation Service to protect 30 acres of bog turtle habitat through the Wetland Restoration Program. The protected site includes 3 acres of emergent wetland, 12 acres of forested wetland and 15 acres of forested upland buffer; and

  • Prioritizing 65 bog turtle sites in Maryland for future restoration efforts based on population size, reproductive activity, and connectivity to each other bog turtle sites. 

For more information, contact:
Bill Schultz, Chesapeake Bay Field Office

Last updated: June 23, 2011