June 24, 2005
Staff from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources
Division (DNR/WRD), Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC), Tennessee Aquarium,
U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Atlanta Botanical Garden, and U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service held a press conference June 23, 2005 on the grounds of
the Chattahoochee Nature Center to announce the successful release of
federally and state listed bog turtles (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) in a
restored mountain bog habitat in north Georgia. In an effort to conserve
rare mountain bog flora and fauna, including the threatened bog turtle,
these agencies formed a partnership to spearhead the Georgia Mountain Bog
Enhancement Project, which includes the on-going Bog Turtle Headstart/Population
Establishment effort. Financial support for this project was provided by
sales of the DNR bald eagle/American flag license plate, as well as funding
through the Federal Endangered Species Act and federal State Wildlife
To ensure the continued survival of rare bog plants and animals, the
Georgia Mountain Bog Enhancement Project team will strive to protect and
enhance the few remaining mountain bogs on manageable, public lands, said
WRD Wildlife Biologist and Project Coordinator Thomas Floyd.
The Bog Turtle Headstart effort began in 2003 with the gathering of
egg-bearing female bog turtles from wild populations on private lands
within Georgia. These females were monitored and allowed to deposit their
eggs in captivity. The bog turtle eggs were incubated in a way that
mimicked natural bog conditions. After hatching, the bog turtle hatchlings
were transferred to the Tennessee Aquarium and CNC for the 22-month rearing
During June of 2005, the seven bog turtles that hatched in 2003 were
released at a
restored mountain bog habitat in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Union
Before the release, four turtles were fitted with small radio transmitters
that will allow biologists to monitor the turtle’s movements within the bog
and locate each turtle to assess general health in the coming months, said
Since the day of the release, each turtle has been located with radio
telemetry equipment by staff from CNC and WRD.
So far the turtles appear content with their new home in the wild,
evidenced by their limited movement away from the site of release, said
Henning von Schmeling of CNC.
The Bog Turtle Headstart’s goal is to release approximately 20 juveniles
per year to successfully establish a population over a five to ten year
period. Although not reaching their annual goal, the Headstart program was
able to rear twelve bog turtles in captivity in 2004 for the scheduled June
2006 release. Without hibernation and a continued feeding regime, Headstart
bog turtles can reach adult size in two years and are ready for release.
Bog turtles in the wild may take 6-8 years to reach adult size.
The bog turtle is a small freshwater species reaching only 4.5 inches in
maximum length. It presents a prominent orange, yellow or red blotch on
each side of the head behind the eye. Bog turtles are primarily active
during spring, early summer and early fall and can be found basking on top
of grass clumps and feeding on various sources like berries, insects,
crayfish and tadpoles. During the winter and late summer months, bog
turtles use mammal burrows and mucky soil as suitable retreats for
The bog turtle is such a secretive species that it escaped detection in the
north Georgia mountains until 1979 when a single turtle stumbled into one
of my graduate research traps intended for ruffed grouse in the
Chattahoochee National Forest, said Mike Harris, WRD Nongame Wildlife and
Natural Heritage Section Chief.
Soon after Harris’ discovery, Ken Fahey, North Forsyth High School biology
teacher and herpetologist, began studying the bog turtle within Georgia.
Perhaps the rarest reptile in Georgia, the federally threatened bog turtle
is currently known from less than 10 sites in the state, only one of which
is on public land and is capable of sustaining a long-term viable
population with continued restoration and management, says Fahey.
Few high-quality and sizable mountain bogs remain in Georgia, most of which
are in private ownership and are found along the relatively flat stream
corridors in the valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rare mountain bog
flora and fauna are concentrated in these few areas; however, management to
maintain them in their early successional stage is exceedingly difficult.
Many landowners are reluctant to allow state and federal agencies access to
and even more reluctant to alter their land use for the benefit of bog
In 1998, personnel with WRD, USFS as well as a host of volunteers initiated
habitat restoration [woody-vegetation reduction] of a mountain bog
community identified within the Chattahoochee National Forest, said USFS
Wildlife Biologist Jim Wentworth.
U.S. Forest Service personnel conducted prescribed burning within the site
in March of 2003 and 2005. Although additional habitat management and
monitoring will be necessary in years to come, this site is now suitable
for inhabitation by bog turtles and several rare bog plant species. In
cooperation with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, bog plant species including
the federally threatened swamp pink (Helonias bullata), the montane purple
pitcherplant (Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa var. montana), and Carolina
sheep laurel (Kalmia carolina) will be established within this restored
mountain bog site in the near future.
Most of the mountain bog wetlands in North Georgia have been drained and
converted to other uses over the years, as these flat areas are also ideal
locations for towns, roads, reservoirs, and farms. Mountain bog plants and
animals, probably never common, have become increasingly rare due to
habitat disturbance as a result of stream impoundment, stream
channelization, and human intolerance for allowing natural beaver
disturbance, which creates the needed wetland areas for bogs to establish.
Georgians can support the conservation and protection of the bog turtle and
their mountain bog habitats by purchasing a bald eagle/American flag
license plate for their vehicles, or by donating to the Give Wildlife a
Chance State Income Tax Checkoff. By purchasing a Give Wildlife a Chance
nongame license plate for their vehicles, Georgians will continue to help
DNR put tag dollars to work for wildlife.