Helping Turtles in Trouble

Turtle populations are falling because of water pollution, humans' development of natural areas, roads fragmenting the landscape, illegal collecting for the pet trade, and effects of climate change.

Biologist John Litvaitis explains why one species is in decline, along with threats to Northeastern turtles in general, in "Saving the Wood Turtle" in Northern Woodlands magazine.

Eastern box turtle withdrawn inside its shell.
Paul Fusco
Eastern box turtles need a variety of habitats, including openings with understory vegetation such as fruiting shrubs and green plants.

Food, Sun, and Shade

Turtles that use young forest and shrubland include the eastern box turtle, wood turtle, and spotted turtle. In general, these and other reptiles thrive when they can find and use various habitats depending on the species' biology and behaviors, the weather, and the season of the year. In spring, after they leave winter dormancy, turtles seek out openings in woods and thickets where they can bask in sunlight and raise their body temperature so they can become active again. During summer's heat, they move to thickets of dense, diverse plants that offer food (insects and fruits), protective cover, and shade.

Other Reptiles

Other reptiles also home in on areas with low, thick plant growth, including lizards and snakes such as racers, rat snakes, and green snakes. They use such areas for basking and hunting prey, ranging from insects up to small mammals. Mosaics of different kinds of habitats, including some openings in forests where young trees, shrubs, and other plants grow densely, are important to most reptiles.

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, an organization of professional biologists and ecologists, considers the eastern box turtle to be vulnerable and the wood turtle and spotted turtle to be endangered. State wildlife agencies in the Northeast classify these turtles as "Species of Greatest Conservation Need."


Green snake coiled in grass.
Jonathan Mays
Snakes benefit from a mosaic of habitats that includes some young forest and shrubland.

These resources offer advice to land managers and landowners wanting to make habitat for turtles: