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Bog Turtle


The smallest of all the North American turtles


     The bog turtle is a critically endangered turtle species found in the eastern United States in colonies of less than 20 individual turtles. These animals are found exclusively in calcareous wetlands, wet meadows, bogs and spring seeps. They are most often found in fens, which are an acidic habitat with lots of anaerobic conditions in the soft deep mud. Bog turtles like to hibernate and will burrow down into the mud for safety. 


     Bog turtles are diurnal and will bask in the morning sunlight to warm up for the day. These turtles will eat a diet of aquatic plants, seeds, berries, worms, snails, insects and other invertebrates. They are also known to dine on small frogs and carrion. 


     During the spring, bog turtles will mate and begin nesting by April to July. In the fall, bog turtle babies begin to hatch just in time for winter hibernation. Females will lay one to six eggs in a nest and each nest is constructed on top of a tuft of grass to prevent saturation from water.


     Bog turtles have many challenges to survival, but one of the most threatening is loss of habitat due to agriculture. Bogs are often found in valleys and in low lying areas between mountain ranges in the eastern United States but this area is also exceptionally well suited for growing crops. As a result, much of the important bog habitat has been drained to go crops and the small local turtle population removed.


     In an effort to protect the small remaining populations of bog turtles, signs are posted around important bog habitats. Since many turtles are so long lived, many have experienced life without roads and other barriers to their movements. Oftentimes, turtles will cross an area that used to be wilderness but is now a road and succumb to being hit by cars. By marking turtle travel areas, drivers can be alerted to look out for crossing turtles.


     Throughout the year, bog turtle populations are studied by biologists to gain a better understanding of their needs. Data such as carapace length, weight, locations, sex, and collecting individual tag information is helpful in determining how the populations are doing.


     Two adult bog turtles are recovered from a fen in North Carolina and wait their turn to be processed by State biologists. Once data is collected, the bog turtles are released back where they were found and where they will likely burrow right back into the mud.


     A fresh hatchling bog turtle is temporarily removed from the nest so that valuable data can be collected. Data similar to the data that is collected for the adults informs researchers about the growth rate and health of this next generation of turtles.

     Another young hatchling is studied. This time, the researcher measures the depth of the animal’s carapace with a set of calipers. In addition, data collected on the nest such as clutch size, location, etc, will help scientists understand how the population of turtles is trending.


     Since fen ecosystems are becoming more rare from overdevelopment of agriculture, many fen-dependent organisms are being pushed together in higher densities than what they would normally exist in the wild. As a result, bog turtle nests are experiencing a higher rate of predation than in the past. Animals such as snakes, skunks, racoons, opossums, and even birds are taking advantage of the limited habitat availability. To help mitigate predation, biologists set up protective cages over bog turtle nests that keep certain species of predators out giving the small turtle hatchlings a chance to survive. Once the nest is created and the nest is laid, the mother turtle will move on, so there is no need to accommodate her movement back to the nest in the creation of the nest predator exclusion devices.

Photographer: Justin Grubb

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