The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a medium-sized turtle, recognizable by its sculpted shell and orange coloration on the neck and forelimbs. Considered a semi-aquatic and semi-terrestrial turtle, they overwinter in streams and spend most of the late spring and summer in upland habitats. Threats include development of upland habitats near streams, mortality from mowing and agricultural machinery, mortality from vehicles on roadways, and illegal casual or commercial collection. It is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in all six states in BCR 14.
Wood turtles frequent slow-moving, sinuous rivers and streams with hard sand or gravel substrate but make extensive use of surrounding uplands during the late spring and summer (within 1,000 feet of the river or stream). A mosaic of rivers or streams with overhanging riparian vegetation, field, forest, dense shrub thicket, and bare sand for egg laying is important. They are absent from coastal islands and high elevations (greater than 5,000 feet).
Habitat Management Practices
- Maintain greater than 300-foot buffers along suitable streams and greater than 1,000-foot buffers near regionally significant populations.
- Mow or clear existing fields during the non-active season (October 15th to April 15th).
- Grow late-season crops harvested in September and early October, if possible.
- To reduce haying or mowing-related mortality, use sickle bar mowers with a height of greater than 6 inches instead of rotary blade mowers.
- Consider off-season burning or year-round grazing to keep areas open.
- Where little cover exists, plant alder (Alnus sp.), dogwoods (Cornus sp.), arrowwood (Viburnum sp.), and willow (Salix sp.) along with grasses and forbs in the riparian area next to agriculture fields using standard buffer widths.
- Minimize forestry activities during their active season within 300 feet of known wood turtle streams and within 1,000 feet of regionally significant populations.
- Small group selection cuts during inactive season may enhance riparian habitat quality where early successional forests or nesting areas are lacking.
- Discontinue logging roads after use to discourage future recreational vehicle use.
Nesting restoration and creation
- Outside of the nesting window (October to April), clear vegetation at known nesting sites, if overgrown.
- Create nesting sites in open areas with ample sun exposure; away from trails, roads, and other recreational areas; and within 150 feet of a suitable stream, either by exposing mixed poorly graded sand and gravel or depositing piles of soil.
- Prohibit new road construction, recreational access, and development within 300 feet of a known wood turtle streams within 1,000 feet of regionally significant populations.
- Recommendations for other species such as American woodcock (Scolopax minor) may also be beneficial to wood turtles.
Carloni, J. 2015. American Woodcock. Pages A281-A287 in the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan, NH Fish & Game Department, Concord, NH.
Erb, L. and M. T. Jones. 2011. Can turtle mortality be reduced in managed fields? Northeastern Naturalist. 18(4):489-496.
Jones, M. T., L. L. Willey, P. R. Sievert, T. S. B. Akre. 2014. Status and conservation of the wood turtle in the northeastern United States. State Wildlife Grants (SWG) and Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) Program. Report.
Megyesy, J. and M. Marchand. 2015. Wood turtle. Pages A62-A78 in the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan, NH Fish & Game Department, Concord, NH.
Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. 2007. Massachusetts forests conservation management practices for wood turtles. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. 24 pp.
Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. 2009. Draft advisory guidelines for creating turtle nesting habitat. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. 4 pp.