The endangered bog turtle is the state’s official reptile, after Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Monday.
He was joined by students at Riverside Elementary School, in Princeton, who nominated the bog turtle after teacher Mark Eastburn told them there was no state reptile; and co-sponsors of the legislation state Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset, and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Monmouth.
The students said they were grateful Democrats and Republicans could work together on the bill and pass it unanimously.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program estimates there are fewer than 2,000 of the small turtles left in the state, mainly because they are sensitive to changes in their habitat and development has made it difficult for them to survive in most places.
They live in groundwater-fed freshwater wetlands, and are secretive and are about the size of an adult human palm.
Two years ago the students started advocating for the bog turtle to become New Jersey’s state reptile to increase awareness about the need to restore habitat and help the turtle thrive.
It’s one of the rarest turtles in North America. Once abundant in New Jersey, they are now found only in wet, rural areas in 12 counties, including Salem County in the south and Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon counties in the north.
The state has been working to protect land around high-priority populations, restoring habitat by eliminating invasive plant species, and identifying critical movement corridors, according to the DEP.
There is another bill pending, that would make the Pine Barrens tree frog the official amphibian of New Jersey.
Other state animals include the eastern goldfinch as the state bird; the horse as the state animal (the U.S. Equestrian Team is headquartered in New Jersey); the brook trout as the state fish; the honeybee as the state “bug”; the black swallowtail as the state butterfly; and Hadrosaurus foulkii, the fossil of which was discovered in Haddonfield, Camden County, as the state dinosaur.