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It's a big season for Georgia's smallest turtle

From the Georgia Department of Natural Resources

It's a big season for Georgia's smallest turtle
Photo by Kristina Summers, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Drought in Georgia's mountains the past two summers dried up much of the habitat for bog turtles, but with wet weather, increased trapping and management efforts, 2010 may be a record season for the smallest of Georgia's protected turtles.

Bog turtles are the smallest turtles in North America, averaging only 3.5 inches in length. Dark in color they are easily distinguished by a bright orange blotch on the head behind each eye.

Like many turtles, they will bask in the sun when active but when it gets too hot these little guys burrow deep into the boggy soil to escape the sun's rays. Females will lay two to five eggs and hatchlings emerge 52-60 days later, usually in mid-August.

Bog turtles are rare in much of their native range because of the loss of habitat. Researchers know of only 67 turtles in Georgia, 16 of which were released from a Headstart restoration project. With increased trapping this year, 40 percent of the known bog turtles in Georgia were captured and released during the monitoring season.

Trapping allows biologists to monitor populations, find new ones and collect egg-bearing females for the Headstart program.

In the past, trapping was limited to 30 traps, but efforts have increased with a State Wildlife Grant that provides funding for more traps and for two bog turtle summer interns. This allowed Georgia biologists to set 145 traps covering 12 sites in four counties.

The three reasons for trapping bog turtles include monitoring known populations, both newly captured and previously identified turtles, and collecting females for the Headstart program, and identifying new populations. This year, a new wetland was discovered in Union County, and demonstrated why bog turtles, typically elusive, often go unnoticed by landowners. 

The new site had all the characteristics of bog turtle habitat, but it took a month before a turtle was captured-one lone male. Since bog turtles are not known to travel great distances and the closest population was known to be approximately three miles away, biologists think the found turtle represents a new population for the area.

Georgia is also cooperating with the U.S. Geological Survey's Biological Resources Division. Genetic samples taken from every bog turtle captured will be sent to Leetown Science Center in Kearneysville, W.V. Georgia has joined other states with known bog turtle populations in supplying genetic samples to help biologists begin to understand relatedness in turtle populations in Georgia and across different states.

Back To YBO Home PageOf the 21 turtles captured and released so far in 2010, three were gravid, meaning distended and full of eggs. Starting this year, the Chattahoochee Nature Center agreed to receive gravid females. Although the collection of gravid females from the wild is an important source of hatchlings, in previous years more hatchlings have been produced from captive stock than from wild-caught turtles. Beginning next year, Chattahoochee Nature Center will also be breeding some 15 captive bog turtles produced from previous years of the Bog Turtle Headstart program.

To learn more about bog turtles, click here to watch a short video or visit the DNR Wildlife Resources Division's website

- From the Georgia Department of Natural Resources

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