The bog turtle is one of the smallest turtles in North America. Bog turtles in the northern part of the range are generally less than 100 millimeters (4 inches) in length, while turtles farther south reach sizes of up to 115 millimeters (4.5 inches) (USFWS 2001).
Despite the apparently large number of populations, significant threats to these populations exist. Many of the populations contain few individuals and the habitats that support them are often small. While additional bog turtle sites will probably be discovered, most are likely to be part of existing metapopulations and be under some threat.
Survey efforts have recently been aimed at marking individual turtles at multiple sites to obtain population data and it is too early to determine short-term trends. The best populations are likely to contain fewer than 100 individuals and most are likely to have far fewer individuals. Thirteen populations have between 10 and 92 individuals documented from them and it is probable that an unknown number of additional turtles are also present. Far fewer individuals are known from the remaining populations. Five populations are known to be extirpated and it is likely that many of the populations with records from the 1970s or earlier are extirpated as well.
A spotty distribution and specialized habitat requirements make this species vulnerable to local extirpation. Declines are primarily due to loss, degradation, and fragmentation of habitat. Road mortality, an increase in subsidized predators, natural succession, and the expansion of invasive exotic vegetation are associated with these primary threats. Illegal collecting for the pet trade is also a direct threat to populations.
The control of exotic species and natural succession is warranted at a number of sites. The control of subsidized predators may be desirable if predation of eggs and juveniles is unusually high.
Additional research on population size, intra-habitat use, and inter-habitat movements and migration is needed.
In New York, bog turtles occur in open-canopy wet meadows, sedge meadows, and calcareous fens. The known habitat in the Lake Plain region of the state includes large fens that may include various species of sedges, such as slender sedge (Carex lasiocarpa), bog buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), mosses (Sphagnum spp.), pitcher plants (Sarracenia sp.), scattered trees, and scattered shrubs. In the Hudson River Valley, bog turtle habitats may be isolated from other wetlands or they may exist as part of larger wetland complexes. These wetlands are often fed by groundwater and the vegetation always includes various species of sedges. Other vegetation that is frequently found in southern New York bog turtle sites includes shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa), grass-of-parnassus (Parnassia glauca), mosses (Sphagnum spp.), horsetail (Equisetum sp.), scattered trees such as red maple (Acer rubrum), red cedar (Juniperus virginianus), and tamarack (Larix laricina), and scattered shrubs such as willows (Salix spp.), dogwood (Cornus spp.), and alder (Alnus spp.).
Although historical records come from a larger area of the state, extant populations are known from small portions of six counties in the lower Hudson River Valley (Columbia, Dutchess, Putnam, Ulster, Orange, and Sullivan). There are a few records of bog turtles in Westchester County from the 1990s, but it is not known if any extant populations remain in this county. Extant bog turtle populations are also known from a small portion of Oswego County and single locations in Seneca County and Wayne County.
The bog turtle occurs in twelve states in the United States and has a discontinuous distribution throughout its range. The northern portion of the range includes central and eastern New York, western Massachusetts, western Connecticut southward to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and northern Delaware. The southern part of the species range includes southeastern Virginia, western and central North Carolina, extreme western Tennessee, and western South Carolina and Georgia. There is a large hiatus of about 250 miles between the northern population and the southern population. Bog turtles occur from sea level to 4,200 feet in elevation in the Appalachians, although populations are usually found below 800 feet in the north. Bog turtles are believed to be extirpated in western Pennsylvania and in the Lake George region of New York.
This is a small turtle with adult carapace (upper shell) lengths ranging from 3 to 4.5 inches in length. The carapace is light brown to black, may have a faint yellowish or reddish pattern visible on the large scutes, and is strongly sculptured with growth lines visible, except in very old adults where the growth lines may be worn smooth. An inconspicuous keel is also present along the dorsal midline of the carapace. The plastron (lower shell) is mainly dark brown to black and may also have large yellowish or reddish blotches present. The head is black with two large orange or yellow blotches above and behind the tympanum (ear) on each side of the head.
The small size and normally orange (sometimes yellow) head blotches are split into two parts and are characteristic of the species.
The diet of the bog turtle has been reported to include insects, plants, frogs, and carrion (Bury 1979). Fecal samples from Massachusetts have contained spiders (Aracnida), beetles (Coleoptera), millipedes (Diplopoda), flies (Diptera), snails (Gastropoda), ants (Hymenoptera), moths (Lepidoptera), dragonflies (Odonata), caddisflies (Trichoptera), and plant fragments (Klemens 1993). Slugs (Arion subflavus) have been reported as food items in southeastern New York, while slugs and crayfish have been reported as food items in North Carolina (USFWS 2001).
Bog turtles are diurnal and are normally active during the early morning to mid-day hours, often in the direct sun. This species hibernates communally and shows site-fidelity to hibernacula.
The time of year you would expect to find Bog Turtle present and reproducing in New York.
Glyptemys muhlenbergii (Schoepff, 1801)
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This guide was authored by: Jesse Jaycox
Information for this guide was last updated on: June 28, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Glyptemys muhlenbergii. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/bog-turtle/. Accessed June 6, 2023.