“Pond turtle” is something of a misnomer, because this reptile more frequently lives in rivers and spends a lot of time in terrestrial habitats. As the West Coast’s only native freshwater turtle, the western pond turtle is listed as endangered by the state of Washington, as “sensitive/critical” in Oregon and as a “species of special concern” in California. In 2014 scientific evidence recognized the pond turtle as in fact two distinct species — northern and southern western pond turtles — each of which is more endangered than the previously recognized single species. Current populations of both species of pond turtle are very fragmented and face serious threats from habitat alteration and destruction.
As with many other turtles, both terrestrial and marine, gender ratios of western pond turtle hatchlings — which are only about the size of a quarter after emerging — are determined by the incubation temperatures of nests. To achieve an equal ratio of male and female turtles, the pivotal temperature is approximately 84.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which means global warming is also a threat.
In order to save both species of western pond turtle, the Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012 for their protection under the Endangered Species Act, along with 52 other amphibians and reptiles. In 2015 the Service made an initial finding that the turtles may qualify for protection.
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2012 petition to list 53 amphibians and reptiles, including western pond turtles
2012 letter by more than 200 scientists in support of the petition
2013 Center report: Dying for Protection: The 10 Most Vulnerable, Least Protected Amphibians and Reptiles in the United States
2014 analysis showing the western pond turtle to be two separate species
2014 Center letter to USFWS emphasizing new urgency to protect western pond turtles
2015 finding that western pond turtles may be warranted for Endangered Species Act protection
Contact: Jenny Loda