At about four inches in length and four ounces in weight, the bog turtle is the smallest turtle in North America. They are distinguishable from other turtles by their yellowish patch on either side of the neck. They are found in the mud, grass, and moss of boggs, swamps and marshes because of their need for wet and muddy soil.
During the winter, bog turtles brunate by burying themselves in mud or water until March or April. They find a mate, and sometime in May through July, females lay one to six eggs in a shallow nest, sure to place them above the water line. After seven to eight weeks, in early fall, the eggs hatch. They are barely one inch long and often spend their first winter in the nest because of their late hatching time.
Bog turtles eat worms, beetles, snails, spiders, and several plants and berries. They are out foraging during the day but are often hidden by vegetation.
There are two kinds of bog turtles, the northern and the southern populations, separated by nearly 250 miles. The northern one can be found from New York south to Maryland, and the southern in Virginia and Tennessee down to northern Georgia. Almost one third of all bog turtles live in Maryland.
Image courtesy of the Maryland Zoo
The bog turtle has never been known to be abundant, but because of several factors, the northern population is listed as threatened. Because turtles from the north and south populations are virtually identical, someone could claim that a turtle taken from the north was actually taken from the south. For this reason the southern population is listed as threatened due to similarity of appearance. However, the southern group is not subject to certain requirements under the Endangered Species Act.
Some natural predators of box turtles are raccoons, foxes, skunks, and dogs. Unnatural threats include habitat loss, mostly because of draining and filling of the wetlands for agricultural and other development, water pollution especially by erosion, and collection of wild turtles to become pets.
In Maryland, where more than a third of all bog turtles live, the population of these turtles has halved in the last forty years.
Ways you can help include carefully helping bog turtles cross roads, supporting wetland protection efforts, not buying pets that were collected from the wild, limit pesticides and maintain measures that control erosions. Landowners can also work with their Department of Natural Resources or other organizations to preserve wetlands on their property.
Bog Turtle (southern population). U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/reptiles/bog-turtle/.
Maryland's Turtles & Tortoises (order testudines). Department of Natural Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2021, from
December 10, 2020, Bog Turtle. The Maryland Zoo. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://www.marylandzoo.org/animal/bog-turtle/.
Cover Image courtesy of Gary Peeples, USFWS.