The Turtle Working Group

The northeastern U.S. is home to 67 species of reptiles.

The northeastern U.S. is home to 67 species of reptiles.

This includes 25 species of aquatic, freshwater turtles, many of which are now listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Species of Special Concern.

Unfortunately, after more than 220 million years on Earth, even common species, such as painted and snapping turtles, are in decline in some areas.

Not all turtles live in ponds! Some turtles are semi-aquatic species, requiring both land and water environments, and eastern box turtles only occasionally use shallow wetlands. Each species' habitat requirements are as varied as the animals themselves.
Northeastern U.S. turtles are active in the warmer months of the year.
Then, most overwinter at the bottom of ponds or rivers. In late spring or early summer, females migrate to nesting sites - usually sunny places with exposed, easily excavated soil. Eggs are laid in a dug hole, then covered with soil and abandoned by the mother. The eggs hatch and the hatchlings emerge and migrate to water in late summer or fall. Some may overwinter in the nest and emerge the following spring.

Painted turtle hatchlings, and possibly other species, actually survive freezing in the nest!

While many young turtles are eaten by predators, adults are very long-lived. Some species such as the snapping and Blanding’s turtle don’t start breeding until reaching their late teens. Aquatic habitats used by Northeastern turtles include permanent wetlands—streams and rivers, ponds and lakes, marshes and bogs, wet meadows and fens, and even brackish estuaries—as well as seasonal wetlands like vernal (temporary) pools. Terrestrial habitats range from forests to fields and may include both urban and suburban areas. Deciduous and pine forests, agricultural lands, fields and meadows, shale barrens, salt marshes, and coastal beaches are all important habitats for different turtle species at various times of the year. These habitats provide food, water, shelter, and places to overwinter and nest. Very few species use just one type of habitat, so it's vital to maintain and preserve not just a variety of habitats, but also the connections between them. Blanding’s turtles, for example, nest in upland habitats and will use vernal pools extensively while traveling across the landscape.
You can make a critical difference in protecting these vulnerable neighbors.
Begin by familiarizing yourself with your local turtle species and their life cycles to understand their specific needs: your state environmental agency website is a good place to start (add a link to the list of agency websites that’s at the end of this doc). No two species are alike, and you need to know your local species to provide the best help.

To learn more about the fascinating natural histories of northeastern US turtle species, see the following references.

Ernst, C.H. and J.E. Lovich. 2009.
Turtle of the United States and Canada, Second Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.
Gibbons, W., and J. Greene. 2009.
Turtles, the Animal Answer Guide. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.
Brennessel, B. 2006.
Diamonds in the Marsh. University Press of New England, Hanover and London.
Jones, M.T., and L.L. Willey. 2021.
Biology and Conservation of the Wood Turtle. Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Inc.
Dodd, C.K. Jr. 2002.
North American Box Turtles: A Natural History. University of Oklahoma Press, OK.

Also consider visiting your local nature center.

You can find a list of the northeastern freshwater turtles by using the link below.

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Northeast Partners in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation is fiscally sponsored by the Amphibian & Reptile Conservancy a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit.