With brush cutters and gardening loppers, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists and partner Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation (MACHAC) trim their way through precious and rare Bog Turtle habitat. They are pruning plant growth overtaking wetland bogs. The assist is all-important to the Bog Turtle as encroachment on lands suitable for wetland bogs limits the turtle’s options to travel for better conditions when growth takes over.

A spring-fed sunny meadow with low grasses and shrubs and soft mud make a great home for the Bog Turtle. North America’s smallest turtle needs the mud to burrow in and, as a reptile, the ability to move in and out of the sun. The sunlight is important to growth, disease prevention and incubating eggs, so keeping overgrowth down is essential.

BogTurtleHabitatManagement2022 before Gipe

Photo of the Bog Turtle habitat before the necessary growth clean up / Photo Credit: Gipe 2022

“In the past, there were more wetlands available for Bog Turtles to move to if conditions became unsuitable at a site, but loss of wetlands due to development has caused remaining Bog Turtle populations to become isolated” said PFBC biologist Josh Brown.

In late February and early March, Brown and his colleagues cut the woody vegetation, so the tiny turtle has the right combination of sun and mucky soil to burrow inches down. Without the management practice, eventually the habitat will get too overgrown and change from a wetland to almost forest-like.

“If the habitat is not great, they may hang on for a while but not too long, maybe only a few seasons. Some populations we currently see are only older ones,” said Brown.

The work is part of a five-year multi-state grant with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service aimed at recovering the Bog Turtle through habitat restoration, management and protection. The ultimate goal is to remove the Bog Turtle from the lists of Pennsylvania endangered, threatened and candidate species.

BogTurtleHabitatManagement2022 after Gipe

Photo of the Bog Turtle habitat after the necessary growth clean up / Photo Credit: Gipe 2022

Along the way, PFBC biologists and partners are surveying the habitats to better understand the impacts of the management practice in hopes of better supporting the turtles in the future.

And if you do encounter a Bog Turtle who has decided to relocate, don’t pick it up and take it home. It is illegal to possess an endangered species. If it is on the road, move it across in the direction it is headed. You, too, can make a difference in PA Wetlands.


Written by Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission

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Sunning the Bog Turtle: Maintaining PA Wetlands for Bog Turtle Habitat