Endangered Turtles in New Jersey Under Threat from Multiple Challenges

You can encounter painted turtles or red-eared sliders in New Jersey if you are wandering in your local park or surroundings this summer. These turtles are considered two of the most common species in New Jersey, you can see these creatures poke their heads up in lakes, and ponds or you may see them sunbathing.

Red-eared sliders are not native here, they originated from the south, but they adapted here well as winters have become tolerable and less fierce because of climate change. But painted turtles are native to New Jersey.

But quite unfortunately, not all species of New Jersey’s turtles are thriving well. some of the species are facing many challenges and it is becoming hard for them to maintain their population.

Threats like losing habitat and fragmentation, predators attacking their nests and eggs, migration routes in busy roads, and last but not least poachers who capture and trade them illegally.

Wood turtle, Bog turtle, Northern diamondback terrapin, and Spotted turtle are New Jersey’s four rarest turtle.

The Bog turtle is one of the world’s smallest turtles. This palm-sized turtle is interested in a book from Robert Zappalorti, who is one of the world’s top amphibian and reptile experts and an environmental consultant. Zappalorti studied Bog turtles for over 50 years.

New Jersey is a sanctuary for these turtles as they are listed as a federally threatened species.

As a youth Zappalorti lived at the Staten Island Zoo and he later served as a reptile keeper in the zoo. His expertise was also enriched over time. In his book, The Bog Turtle: Natural History and Conservation, he offers a thorough reference source on the biology, behavior, habitat, nutrition, and life history of turtles. The book also discusses initiatives made to preserve and protect bog turtle populations.

According to the Endangered and Nongame Species program, approximately 2,000 Bog turtles are left in New Jersey. To which Zappalorti commented, “That’s not a lot, considering.”

Endangered Turtles in New Jersey
Source: centraljersey.com

Bog Turtles In New Jersey

In the past, there were about 15 counties in New Jersey where Bog turtles used to be found in wetlands. But as urbanization took over our lives, Bog turtles disappeared from counties like Camden, Bergen, and Middlesex.

An illegal farming practice in Burlington County from 15 years ago, snapped a healthy Bog turtle population. The biggest population of these species can now be found in Warren, Morris, Passaic, Salem, and Sussex counties.

Zappalorti said, “In protected habitats, they’re holding their own”, he also noted that New Jersey is taking necessary steps to safeguard those turtle habitats. For instance, if the nesting sites are surrounded by high trees and give shade, Bog turtle’s eggs won’t even hatch.

The Endangered and Nongame Species Program is also working on slowing down the forest in detected Bog turtle habitats to help the sunshine fall properly on the eggs.

Boog turtle eggs are highly vulnerable to animal predators even though they stay hidden by grasses and moss. In order to prevent predators, conservation scientists have been putting cages in the known locations of turtle nests.

Decline Of Spotted Turtles

Wood and Spotted turtles are closely related to Bog turtles, and they also have to go through the same risks as them. Spotted turtles have distinctive yellow spots on their shells, and they can be found in habitats like Bog turtle.

Bog turtle is known as habitat specialist, they require specific conditions to thrive while Spotted turtles are generalists. They have fewer specific needs than Boog turtles.

Conservation biologist Robert Hamilton said, “They’re a beautiful little turtle”. In order to gather data on these beautiful Spotted turtles, he has launched an independent volunteer project.

According to Hamilton due to illegal poaching and collecting of Spotted turtles for pet trade, these turtles have disappeared from many locations. Thus, the Spotted turtle population is declining, and they need more protection otherwise they may go instinct.

He also added “Before we can get any protection, we need data. Right now, we don’t have anything close to a population estimate.”

Story Of Wood Turtles

Wood turtles use a mosaic of wetlands and upland habitats, these stream-oriented species are a threatened species in New Jersey. These species require a neat and clean stream going through woods and farmlands.

They are typically found in home waters and often stroll through far afield. During spring they migrate from forests to hibernate to the stream habitats for breeding.

As usual, their migration routes consist of harmful ways like other reptiles.

Diamondback Terrapins

These are the only turtles that spend their entire lives in brackish coastal marshes, a place where saltwater and freshwater mix freely. Among these species, is the Northern diamondback terrapin which is found in New Jersey. Unfortunately, they are declining.

Native Americans and European immigrants relied on terrapins as food when they first arrived in North America, but they were eventually hunted almost to extinction.

Over the past century, populations have partially recovered. Terrapins are still threatened by habitat loss, getting caught in crab traps, poaching, and automobiles even though they are no longer hunted in New Jersey.

The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor has run a program for many years to help these species cross their path safely during breeding season.

To make the causeways safer for terrapins during the seashore’s heavy traffic season, some projects are in the works.

All thanks to the Endangered and Nongame Species Program and the volunteers who are helping in saving New Jersey’s rare turtles.

How Do Spotted Turtles Look?

These turtles are really easy to recognize. This species has yellow polka dots on its dark shell. These yellow spots on the carapace are very random. Their skin also has bright yellow, grey, or orange markings. Their heads can also have some spots.

Based on observation, gender identification is possible on Spotted turtles. The male Spotted turtles have brown eyes, but the females have red eyes. If you want to learn more about Spotted turtles check out this article on How To Take Care Of Spotted Turtles.

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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