The Big Four of Turtle Conservation



If you like turtles, as most of us do, we would like to tell you about four species in urgent need of our help. Wood Turtles, Bog Turtles, Blanding’s Turtles, and Spotted Turtles are all in sharp decline, and to us, they are the Big Four of Turtle Conservation in the Northeastern United States. Although the threats to these species are growing, it is not too late to protect and restore their habitat in key landscapes and ensure that all four can survive alongside humans in this modern era.

To help The Orianne Society in its initiative to protect habitat for these four species and other imperiled reptiles, please consider supporting us by making a contribution, becoming a member, or visiting our online shop. And follow us on Social Media @OrianneSociety where we will be featuring #TheBigFourTurtles all week. Continue reading to learn more about these incredible animals, their life histories, threats, and what can be done to restore their habitat and ensure their futures.  

Turtles in need...

Turtles are among the most threatened groups of animals on the planet, with 61% of the 356 living species currently threatened with extinction. The loss of each species can be a very drawn out process, with the last few surviving members sometimes living more than a century without ever seeing another of their kind. Although every turtle species has a lineage that can be traced back to a common ancestor that lived over 200 million years ago, there is growing concern that many turtle species may not survive the modern era. Yet there is hope, and momentum is building to conserve and restore landscapes to protect the species in greatest need.

To us, Spotted, Wood, Blanding’s and Bog Turtles are the BIG four turtle conservation priorities in the Northeastern US. Their ranges are widespread, but each species is in decline nearly everywhere they occur, and they can all be found very close to human habitation, sometimes in our own backyards. With long lifespans (nearly a century for Wood and Blanding’s) and low reproductive and growth rates, their populations depend on the longevity and high survival rates of adults, but these four species all need a lot of space and the ability to move freely across the landscape. When forced to cross roads and trails, wander into residential areas, or forage in farm fields, these turtles can easily be crushed by cars and machinery, and local populations cannot survive the slow drip of losing even just a handful of turtles every year due to human activity. With remaining habitat rapidly vanishing, the time to act is now.

The Big Four of Turtle Conservation

These four species, each with their own unique lifestyles and habitat preferences, share many things in common. Unlike their more aquatic counterparts, such as Painted Turtles which rarely leave the water except to sun themselves or nest, Spotted, Wood, Blanding’s and Bog Turtles all spend considerable time on land. While Bog Turtles sometimes spend their entire lives in and around the same wetland, the other three can cover great distances, moving between rivers and foothills or from one wetland to another through forests. Those terrestrial movements put these turtles at great risk. Simply put, they no longer have the space they need to survive in many areas, and their remaining habitat is being divided into increasingly smaller pieces separated by greater distances. Furthermore, all four are under great threat from a growing international black market, and many are illegally collected from the wild to be sold as pets overseas, so it is best not to publicize locations where the species can be found to avoid attracting poachers. Land conservation and habitat restoration is critical to the survival of all four.

You can learn more about these turtles by scrolling through the following species slideshows and reading the captions.

Bog Turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii)

Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)

Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)

Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata)

Join the Effort to Save These Turtles

The Orianne Society works to conserve critical ecosystems for imperiled reptiles and amphibians using science, applied conservation and education, and these four species are huge priorities for us. Each turtle has incredible value and is an integral part of our ecosystems, playing their part in keeping these systems functioning. Reptiles and amphibians are key players in the world we live in, yet they are often overlooked as conservation priorities, receiving only a fraction of conservation resources compared to “cuter” animals we’re asked to save. Reptiles and amphibians are often the bellwethers of habitat health. To see these species in the wild is to see a healthy, functioning landscape.

Please join us in our efforts to protect these species, restore their habitat, and educate the community about their needs and values. Become an Orianne Society member today, make a donation, or browse our online shop to help us do more.