The Story of America’s Smallest Turtle

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The Story of America’s Smallest Turtle

How history has altered the bog turtle’s habitat

At one time, the Appalachian landscape was a shifting mosaic of wetlands teeming with flora and fauna, including the smallest North American turtle – the bog turtle. The bog turtle is now one of the most critically imperiled species in the United States, and its journey is deeply intertwined with what is written in the pages of American history books.

Southern Appalachian bog turtles are native to mountain fens, commonly known as bogs, near the Appalachian mountains. Characterized by saturated, mucky soil and interspersed with patches of water, herbaceous vegetation, and hummocks, bogs are naturally small and isolated habitats that are easily degraded. A delicate balance of wet and dry areas, these already vulnerable ecosystems were first jeopardized by the arrival of European settlers.

The settlers trapped millions of beavers whose engineering helped maintain the natural environment. Beavers drastically altered the landscape and ensured that encroachment from woody vegetation didn’t eliminate all of the bogs. Additionally, the settlers ditched and drained many of the bogs to convert them to fields.

These two major historical occurrences left bog turtles with declining habitat. Population growth and development over time resulted in the continued disappearance of suitable habitat for bog turtles, shaping an uncertain outlook for this threatened species.

The bog turtle’s story is woven into the course of American history and is one we cannot rewrite. However, ARC is composing a new chapter. Look out for our next email to learn about the big plans we have for this tiny turtle! If you don’t receive ARC’s free newsletter, subscribe here!