National Endangered Species Day – The Spotted Turtle & More

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National Endangered Species Day – The Spotted Turtle & More

What is an endangered species?

Earth is home to millions of animal and plant species, from majestic mammals like polar bears and humpback whales to the tiniest wildflower. The biodiversity of an ecosystem is defined by the variety of organisms living in it. This variety of life is what allows the ecosystem as a whole to continue to adapt and survive over time. When the biodiversity is diminished, the health of the entire ecosystem is at risk. Many species are unable to adapt quickly enough in response to the ever-growing human activity across the world; decreasing numbers of species have led to continued efforts to bring awareness to the public about the long-term stability of life on this planet.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, an “endangered” species is an animal or plant at risk of extinction. The extinction of even the tiniest species can disrupt food chains, which can have damaging impacts on entire ecosystems. A species can be classified as endangered at the state, federal, and international level. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List is a comprehensive list of the global conservation status for flora and fauna species. We’ve highlighted 4 species of animals in the Museum’s Living Collection to help spread awareness of this issue.

Spotted turtles
IUCN Status: Endangered (EN)
The Spotted turtle is easily identifiable by its petite size and the yellow spots adorning its dark gray or black shell. An adult Spotted turtle will reach a carapace (upper shell of a turtle) length of about 3 – 5 inches. The semi-aquatic turtle is found in a variety of wetlands including swamps, bogs, marshes, woodland streams, and vernal pools along the east coast of the U.S.
Diet: Omnivore
Longevity: 25 – 50 years
Threats: Residential/commercial development, road systems, invasive animals/diseases, habitat shifting, pollution.

Gopher tortoises
IUCN Status: Vulnerable (VU)
The Gopher tortoise is the only tortoise native to North America. These ecosystem engineers are identifiable by their shovel-like front legs adorned with scales, stumpy back legs, and a brown/tan/gray colored carapace of about 10 inches or more. They are found in sandhills, coastal dunes, or dry prairies predominantly in Florida. They dig deep burrows for nesting and protection from predators and extreme weather. Their burrows also provide shelter for countless other animals including snakes, owls, and frogs.
Diet: Herbivore
Longevity: 40 – 60 years
Threats: Residential development, habitat loss, and road systems

Diamondback Terrapins
IUCN Status: Vulnerable (VU)
This species of turtle is identifiable by the diamond pattern on its shell. Their body color can be brown, yellow, or white, with black spots. An adult Diamondback will reach a carapace length of about 5 – 8 inches. The species can be found in brackish coastal waters along the east coast of the U.S. Habitats include coastal regions, estuaries, lagoons, tidal creeks, mangrove swamps, and salt marshes.
Diet: Carnivore
Longevity: 25 – 40 years
Threats: Tourism/recreation development, road systems, fishing and harvesting aquatic resources, and habitat loss/modifications.

Eastern Box turtles
IUCN Status: Vulnerable (VU)
Eastern Box turtles are found on the eastern side of the U.S. in woodland, shrubland and march meadows. They are easily identified by their box-shaped carapace ranging between 4 – 6 inches and their brown coloring with decorative yellow markings.
Diet: Omnivore
Longevity: 20 – 30 years
Threats: Residential/commercial development, habitat loss/shifting, hunting/trapping, road systems, and extreme weather.