Species Highlight

Photo by Nathanael Stanek

Photo by Nathanael Stanek

The Bog Turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) is a small species of turtle native to the Eastern United States. It is considered to be one of the smallest turtle species on Earth, rarely weighing more than 110 grams as a full-grown adult. Despite their name, they live in a very unique habitat known as a fen—not a bog as it turns out—a wetland fed by mineral-rich surface or groundwater and characterized by an assembly of grasses, sedges, and mosses. They have drab, brown shells (making for great camouflage among the peat-rich mud) occasionally with subtle orange radiating patterns on the scutes, and a black or brown underside with intermittent yellow-to-orange markings. The skin bears similar coloration but the head is distinguishable by two bright yellow-orange spots on each side of their head.

In the spring, they emerge from their muddy tunnels among the roots to forage, bask, and mate throughout the fen’s thick tussocks of sedges/grasses and clumps sphagnum moss. Perhaps the most unique behavior is their choice of nesting site. Unlike other turtles, females do not lay eggs in a sandy or soil substrate, but rather choose to build nests in clumps of vegetation around June/July. Therefore, the species is highly dependent on this specific assembly of vegetation. Typically, a female bog turtle’s clutch size will range from one to five eggs. From September to April, the turtles usually hibernate in small groups deep under the mud and cave-like structures created by the plants. Bog turtles are omnivorous, with a diet consisting of aquatic plants, small berries, and fruits, as well as invertebrates such as slugs, snails, worms, and small insects. The bog turtle ranges along the Appalachians in disjunct populations from North Georgia up to Lake Ontario in New York State.

Unfortunately, because of their unique characteristics, bog turtles are sought out in the illegal pet trade. An adult bog turtle is worth a few thousand dollars on the black market. Because of habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade, they are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Due to human activities, their population size has decreased by at least 50% in the past 30 years. In fact, the primary threat to the bog turtle is habitat loss and destruction. The fen is a very sensitive ecosystem threatened by habitat conversion/oss due to human development involving the draining and filling of wetlands. Human encroachment also leads to the spread of invasive plants and the subsidization generalist predators like raccoons that prey upon the turtles. When females are laying just a few eggs per year, factors like these can quickly decimate populations. On a positive note, the bog turtle is strictly protected under the United States Federal Endangered Species Act and has been considered as threatened by many states, including New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, since 1997.

Many studies have been performed to find the best conservation strategies for bog turtles.  Radio telemetry has been used to follow released animals that were bred in captivity and to further collect data on the bog turtle’s natural history and survival following release. This technique (known as head-starting) along with habitat restoration methods have been found to be the best way to pursue the conservation efforts for this threatened little turtle.

News From the Field

News From the Field

In early May, TC Board Chair Anders Rhodin and TC field programs director Peter Paul van Dijk visited Mexico to evaluate progress in management of the Bolson Tortoise Ecosystem Preserve by the TC’s local affiliate HABIO, A.C. Working with HABIO’s treasurer Judith Rios, progress was made towards full-time management of the Preserve, while we also continue to work towards possible future expansion of strictly protected areas for Bolson Tortoises. Among the highlights were the opportunity provided by our colleague Gamaliel Castañeda to give presentations to a large gathering of students and staff of the Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango at Gomez Palacio; Anders spoke about the conservation status of tortoises and freshwater turtles world-wide, while Peter Paul spoke about the opportunities and challenges of private protected areas for biodiversity conservation... 

Turtle Crossings!

Turtle Crossings!

It’s turtle nesting season in the Northern Hemisphere! Turtles rarely leave their home range for much of the year, but during breeding season they will travel far to find mates or a suitable place to nest. There are 59 species of turtles and tortoises in North America, but you might encounter some species more than others on roads. Depending on your location, it is common to find Painted Turtles, Common Snapping Turtles, and Diamondback Terrapins attempting to cross roads throughout the East and Central United States. These species suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation as well as the destruction of nesting sites, largely from housing and commercial developments encroaching on the beaches and sandy and soil areas where turtles like to nest. Consequently, females will travel longer distances in search of proper nesting habitat...

Geometric Tortoise Preserve Update

Geometric Tortoise Preserve Update

The Turtle Conservancy is excited to report the addition of 57.5 acres of land to our 800-acre Geometric Tortoise Preserve in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The parcel was purchased with a substantial grant from the Rainforest Trust and will double the amount of critical habitat protected at the southern portion of the reserve. The Turtle Conservancy’s Geometric Tortoise Preserve contains more than 80% of the remaining Geometric Tortoises on the planet…

Species Highlight

Species Highlight

The Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi) is a recently described species of turtle endemic to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The name Leucocephalon refers to the white head coloration in males of the species, while yuwonoi refers to the animal collector Franck Yuwono, who was the first to obtain specimens of this turtle…

Conservation Organizations Gathered to Discuss Enhanced Wildlife Protections in the U.S.-Mexico Border States

On February 21, some 40 wildlife conservation leaders and specialists representing 22 American and Mexican non-governmental organizations, were gathered during the 44th Annual Symposium of the Desert Tortoise Council, in Tucson, Arizona, to celebrate recent successes and to accelerate protection of transboundary wildlife corridors, with a focus on supporting private lands conservation on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands…

Turtle rehabilitation at MOHS Habitat

Turtle rehabilitation at MOHS Habitat

Volunteering in the greenhouse habitat, several Mount Olive High School students care for the animals, learn skills in the field of biology and ecology, and participate in a rehabilitation program for the animals. The students are currently helping rehabilitate several turtles for the Turtle Conservancy, an organization that helps protect over 300 species of endangered turtles throughout the world. These turtles will be returned to the care of Maurice Rodrigues in May, one of the founders of the program…

Turtles and Climate Change

Turtles and Climate Change

Spring has sprung, all the flowers are in bloom, and shells are a clackin'! This winter has been cold and rainy at the Turtle Conservancy’s Conservation Center, and the turtles have had enough of it! They have had plenty of time to think about climate change and its implications for their future.

Species Highlight

The Coahuilan box turtle (Terrapene coahuila) is a small aquatic species of box turtle which lives in Mexico, specifically in the Cuatro Ciénegas basin of central Coahuila. This species is the most aquatic turtle of the genus Terrapene.

This turtle species inhabits permanent and seasonal ponds and wetlands—a specific and sensitive habitat to which it is dependent. When not foraging, it selects to bury itself in the mud in or near the water bodies where it lives. Nevertheless, it is less aquatic than the sympatric species found in Cuatro Ciénegas; the Cuatro Cienegas Slider (Trachemys taylori) and the Cuatro Cienegas Softshell (Apalone spinifera atra). The high salinity of the water gives a white appearance to the Coahuilan box turtle’s shell when the water dries. The Coahuilan box turtle is mostly omnivorous, mainly feeding on plants and insects.

 Unfortunately, this species faces many threats. The primary reason is habitat loss due to human hydrological activities—specifically those linked to the pumping of groundwater and increased diversion by canals. Agriculture and cattle ranching is also being developed in the area which requires a substantial amount of water. These combined activities have caused the shallow pond habitat of the Coahuilan box turtle to dry up significantly. Furthermore, the illegal collection and poaching of this turtle for the pet trade has occurred in the past, indicated by the presence of wild caught animals in private collections. Terrapene coahuila is currently considered as Endangered by the IUCN.

A studbook exists in Europe and in the United States for this species, monitoring births, deaths, parentage lines, individuals acquired from the wild, the location of individuals, and transfers of individuals. Trends in the studbook show that the Coahuilan box turtle is bred quite well in captivity.

The Turtle Conservancy has participated in surveys over the past few years and the threats to the Coahuilan Box Turtle were evident. The situation of this box turtle in the wild must be monitored extensively to ensure its survival. Fortunately, the Mexican government declared 84,347 hectares of the Cuatro Ciénegas as a protected area. However, this will not be enough and further conservation initiatives must be taken in the upcoming next few years to protect the habitat of the turtle.

Planning for the Future

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In mid-February, Turtle Conservancy staff convened at our southern California Conservation Center for strategic planning to discuss the organization's future goals and implementation strategies. The three days of meetings allowed for in-depth conversations that will help guide us through the next three years.

On February 21st, the Border States Conservation Collaborative, a binational group of organizations, met in Tucson, Arizona to explore ways to work together to support our collective and individual conservation goals. The Collaborative discussed proposed border wall construction and the significant implications for wildlife corridors in northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States.

This was the second meeting of this newly formed group that includes Arizona Department of Fish & Game, Borderlands Restoration, Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Desert Tortoise Council, Diamond A Ranch Animas Foundation, Fondo Mexicano Para La Conservación de la Naturaleza, Global Wildlife Conservation, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Malpais Borderlands Group, Nature and Culture International, Northern Jaguar Project, Rancho El Aribabi, Sky Island Alliance, Sonoran Joint Venture, The Nature Conservancy, Turner Endangered Species Fund, Turtle Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango, University of Queretaro, and Wildlands Network.

'Extinct' Tortoise Rediscovered

'Extinct' Tortoise Rediscovered

The Fernandina Tortoise, presumed extinct since 1906, has been rediscovered on a remote volcanic island in the Galapagos, during an Animal Planet funded expedition...

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