Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)
Photo of Bog Turtle courtesy of Lori Erb
3 ½ – 4 inches. Record – 4 ½ inches.
This is North America's smallest turtle. Characterized by a yellow, orange or red "ear" patch, a large spot of color on either side of the head. Rarely, this patch is white and it may be divided into two parts. The carapace (top shell) is usually keeled; growth "rings" or annuli give it a rough appearance. Older individuals may have a smooth shell. The shell is longer than it is wide. The main color is black to dark olive-brown. The large scutes, or scales, of the adult shell may have radiating pattern of red or yellow starbursts in the center. The plastron (bottom shell) in adults is black with cream colored blotches. The plastron of the young bog turtle is yellow with a large black blotch in the center.
Photo of Bog Turtle
courtesy of Scott A. Smith
As its name implies, this turtle prefers spring-fed wetlands with soft highly organic soils. They like relatively open habitats with slow flowing stream systems or surface seepages. They are burrowers and need a soft substrate for digging. Dominant vegetation is usually grasses and sedges.
Photo of Habitat for Bog Turtle
courtesy of Rebecca Chalmers
How to Find
This is a secretive animal but sometimes can be seen basking on grass and sedge tussocks, especially after emerging from hibernation in the early spring. The turtle will burrow into aquatic tunnels when it senses danger. If you reach into these tunnels, you may also find an eastern snapping turtle, so avoid this method.
Distribution in Maryland
Found in small portions of Maryland north-central counties, from Cecil to Carroll. This species is Federally Threatened due to threats by collectors and habitat loss. If you see one, please contact MD DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service.
- Discover Maryland's Herps
- Maryland Herp History
- Maryland Herp Checklist
- Survey Techniques, Collecting Ethics, Safety and the Law
- Problems with Buying Frogs and Tadpoles for Wild Release
- Technical Guide: A Key to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Maryland - 86.3 MB pdf file
- Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas (MARA) Project
- Natural Heritage Program
- Wildlife & Heritage Home
"A Joint Project of the Natural History Society of Maryland, Inc. and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources"
To see older newsletters, please visit the MARA Resource Page.
The Maryland Herpetology Field Guide is a cooperative effort of the MD Natural Heritage Program and the MD Biological Stream Survey within the Department of Natural Resources and their partners. We wish to thank all who contributed field records, text, and photographs, as well as support throughout its development.