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A young bog turtle in an Appalachian bog. Photo by Gary Peeples, USFWS.

Bog turtle (southern population)

Glyptemys muhlenbergii

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    Bog turtles

Appearance

The bog turtle is the smallest turtle in North America, rarely exceeding three or four inches in length and weighing only about four ounces. It’s orange to yellow patch on either side of the neck easily distinguishes it from other turtles.

Bog turtles emerge from their muddy hibernation in March or April and begin actively seeking a mate. Adults are sexually mature at five to eight years of age. During the months of May-July, the female lays a clutch of one to six small white elliptical eggs in a shallow nest she digs in a clump of sphagnum moss or tuft of grass above the water line. After seven or eight weeks of being incubated by the sun, the inch-long hatchlings emerge. Because they are born so late in the year, the hatchlings often spend their first winter near the nest.

Habitat

Bog turtles live in the mud, grass and sphagnum moss of bogs, swamps, and marshy meadows. These wetlands are usually fed by cool springs flowing slowly over the land, creating the wet, muddy soil needed by the turtles.

Diet

The bog turtle is omnivorous and feeds on invertebrates such as worms, beetles, snails, and spiders, and various plant parts including small berries.

Range

There are two distinct populations of the bog turtle separated by about 250 miles. The northern population is found from New York and Massachusetts south to Maryland. The southern population extends from southwestern Virginia south through eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northwestern South Carolina to northern Georgia. Throughout their range they have been found from near sea level to as high as 4,500 feet above sea level.

Conservation challenges

The bog turtle was first described in 1801 and has never been known to be abundant. The northern populations are listed as threatened and the southern population are listed as threatened due to similarity of appearance to the northern populations. Both populations face similar stressors, with the primary threats being habitat loss due to the draining and filling of wetlands for farming and development; and illegal collection of wild bog turtles for the pet trade.

Because individuals from the northern and southern populations are almost identical, a poacher could claim that a turtle he collected from the threatened northern populations was taken from the South. In order to eliminate such confusion for law enforcement personnel, the southern populations was designated as “threatened due to similarity of appearance,” which makes the poaching of bog turtles a federal offense anywhere within the species’ range. The southern population of the species is not subject to Section 7 consultations requirements under the Endangered Species Act.

Recovery plan

Bog Turtle Northern Population Recovery Plan (USFWS 2001) There is no recovery plan for the southern population.

Partnerships, research and projects

How you can help

  • Never buy pets collected from the wild. Report to the authorities anyone you suspect or know to be taking and/or selling bog turtles.
  • If you see a bog turtle crossing the road, carefully pick it up and carry it across the road in the same direction it was moving.
  • If you think you may have potential habitat, please contact your state wildlife agency or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Support local, state, and national wetland protection efforts and clean water legislation.
  • Establish and maintain forested stream-side buffers. Several federal, state, and private programs are available to assist landowners, both technically and financially, with restoring and protecting stream-side buffers and eroding streams.
  • Implement and maintain measures for controlling erosion and storm water during and after land-clearing and disturbance activities. Excess soil in our streams from erosion is one of the greatest water pollution problems we have today.
  • Be careful with the use and disposal of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals. Remember, what you put on your land or dump down the drain may eventually wind up in nearby water, including drinking water.
  • Report illegal dumping activities, erosion, and sedimentation problems. These activities affect the quality of our water, for drinking, fishing, and swimming.
  • Tread lightly and stay on designated trails.
  • Visit arboretums, botanical gardens, and parks and learn all you can about endangered species and the causes of their declines.

Subject matter experts

Designated critical habitat

None designated.

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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