Petition Aims to Protect Amphibians and Reptiles

By Chelsea Richardson

A baby spotted turtle at an MNA sanctuary

A baby spotted turtle at one of MNA’s nature sanctuaries. Photo: Amanda Orban

Sometimes we are so worried about larger animals, we forget about the little guys. Fifty-three of our nation’s reptiles and amphibians are in danger of becoming extinct because of threats to their environment including toxins, global warming, nonnative predators, overcollection, habitat destruction and disease.

On July 11, The Center for Biological Diversity made a huge move to protect amphibians and reptiles in the United States. The petition asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to protect six turtles, seven snakes, two toads, four frogs, 10 lizards and 24 salamanders.

Scientists estimate that about 25 percent of the nation’s amphibians and reptiles are at risk of extinction, yet only 58 of the approximately 1,400 U.S. species protected under the Endangered Species Act are amphibians and reptiles. The animals included in the July 11 petition will reap lifesaving benefits from the Act, which has a 99 percent success rate at staving off extinction for species under its care.

In Michigan there are three turtles included in the petition; the spotted turtle, the wood turtle and the Blanding’s turtle. The spotted turtle’s loss of habitat is the main cause for the endangered listing for this species. This species is also very sensitive to pollution and toxins and disappears rapidly with the loss of water quality.  Public education is necessary to inform people that populations are declining and efforts should be made to protect this turtle. Habitat and water quality should be monitored in ponds and other water bodies where known populations of spotted turtles live. The spotted turtle is small and has gray to black skin color. Its upper shell is smooth and has up to 100 yellow spots.

The wood turtle population in Michigan has declined in recent years and is protected by Michigan law as a special concern species. Threats to this turtle include predation by raccoons and skunks which not only destroy turtle eggs and hatchlings, but can also kill adult turtles. Water pollution and sedimentation can impact survival of the wood turtle. Reduction of nesting areas through stream bank stabilization has impacted turtle populations in local areas. The commercial pet trade and removal of individual turtles for a personal pet has also reduced populations. This turtle has also suffered greatly from habitat loss. Intensive forestry, farming, or industrial or residential development can severely impact this turtle. It has colorful red to yellow markings on its neck and legs and the striking geometric growth-line etchings on each of the dark plates that make up its top shell.

The Blanding’s turtle’s survival depends on the conditions of wetland habitats. It has special concern status in Michigan and is fully protected. One of the main causes of death is by cars, this turtle often crosses roads seeking places to nest and lay its eggs. Other threats to this species are loss or alteration of wetland and terrestrial habitats, loss of nesting habitats and increased abundance of specialized predators. This turtle has a bright yellow chin and throat, the upper shell is domed and speckled with yellow and light colored flecks and streaks. The lower shell is yellow with dark blotches.

Organizations like MNA continue to work to protect special natural areas that these species call home. To learn more about the reptile and amphibian extinction crisis, visit the Center for Biological Diversity’s website.

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