If you have wood turtles living in your region, you may have heard that their populations are declining. They are even considered endangered by various organizations. But why is that? Why is the wood turtle on the endangered species list, and what is being done to protect these adorable reptiles? Keep reading to find out more!
What You'll Learn Today
Is the Wood Turtle Endangered?
The wood turtle used to live in a much wider range spanning the majority of the eastern United States. However, their populations have been declining steadily for the past hundred years and they now live in only a small portion of the northeastern U.S. and adjacent Canada.
With this in mind, they are considered endangered by various organizations and are under review for endangerment status by others.
In particular, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review the status of wood turtles by 2023 to determine whether they should be covered by the Endangered Species Act.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature already considers the wood turtle an endangered species.
What’s more, this turtle is considered a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in all 17 states where it is found.
It is even considered a threatened animal under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
So yes, wood turtles are endangered. As their populations continue to fall, efforts to save these friendly reptiles and preserve their habitats are considered a priority by various conservation groups.
Check out this video to learn more about wood turtles:
What Caused the Wood Turtle to Become Endangered?
There are lots of turtles in the world, and not all of them are endangered. So, you may be wondering, what is so special about wood turtles? Why are they an endangered species, and what caused them to reach endangered status?
Their decline has been due to a number of factors.
Habitat loss and fragmentation is perhaps the biggest reason for the decline of the wood turtle. These turtles need a specific type of environment, and that environment is becoming harder and harder to find in the wild.
Wood turtles live both in water and on land. They prefer riparian habitats with clean, moderately-flowing water, still pools, and areas of both forest and clearing close at hand.
Many of these natural environments are being destroyed or broken up due to human interference. Wood turtles are being forced to inhabit smaller areas and travel farther to find mates and nesting sites.
Another major factor in the decline of wood turtles is the illegal pet trade.
Wood turtles are friendly, curious, and have engaging personalities, so many people like to keep them as pets. Because of the demand for these turtles, people often capture them illegally in the wild and sell them on the black market.
It is okay to own a wood turtle that you came by legally. But those captured for the pet trade are often mistreated, neglected, and even killed in the process.
Vehicles and Machinery
Since wood turtles have to travel farther when searching for mates or nesting sites, more and more of them are forced to cross roads. Because they are so slow-moving, this puts them at great risk of being hit by cars.
These turtles often venture into hay fields and agricultural areas looking for food. Many of them are killed when they are hit by machinery used to plant and harvest crops.
Non-native and invasive plant species can take over nesting sites and make it extremely difficult for wood turtles to find a suitable place to lay their eggs.
If they don’t lay their eggs, they will become eggbound and die. But if they lay their eggs in an unsuitable location, the eggs will be at a greater risk of predation and few, if any, of the babies will survive.
Wood turtles are subject to various diseases which can spread from one turtle to the next. Not only can these diseases weaken their natural defenses, but some of them are also deadly to the turtles.
Poor Water Quality
Wood turtles need fresh, clean water in their environment. If there is nothing but muddy or polluted water available to them, they will leave the area and attempt to find a more suitable body of water.
Not only can pollutants in the water harm them, but the journey they undertake to find clean water can also present many hazards.
Slow Reproductive Rate
Wood turtles generally lay less than 20 eggs per year. This may seem like a lot, but it is hardly enough to keep the population steady given all of the threats these turtles face.
Many of the eggs don’t hatch, and those that do rarely make it to adulthood. It isn’t uncommon for an entire clutch of eggs to perish before reaching sexual maturity; and, given that adults face nearly as many threats as the young, there is no guarantee that they will be around to lay more eggs next year.
What Can We Do About It?
Obviously, we can’t do anything to change the wood turtle’s reproductive rate, but there are things we can do to help protect these sweet reptiles.
If you’re planning to purchase a wood turtle as a pet, find out about its background, and avoid buying those that were captured illegally.
If you see a wood turtle crossing the road, pull off to the side and, once traffic clears, help the turtle get to the other side of the road. You can simply pick it up by the sides of its shell and move it in the direction it was already heading.
Plant only native plants in your yard and garden. This will limit the number of non-native species that can work their way into the environment.
Do not litter or dump harmful substances onto the ground. These will eventually reach water sources and will pollute the area.
Learn about local conservation efforts in your city or state and find out what you can do to get involved. Many states have conservation plans in place and would be happy to educate you on what is being done and tell you how you can help.
Wood turtles are not yet covered under the Endangered Species Act, but they are considered endangered by the IUCN, Canada’s Species at Risk Act, and state endangerment lists throughout their native range. They are threatened by a number of factors, including habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.