Understanding New York’s Laws on Amphibians & Reptiles
Common Questions and Answers from the Department of Environmental Conservation
What methods are allowed for collecting snapping turtles from my pond?
The use of traps, dip nets, pitfalls, seines or other devices requires the appropriate hunting or trapping license or a special license from the Department of Environmental Conservation (Department). It is illegal to take turtles with a hook and line.
I’d like to keep a native turtle as a pet. Is this legal?
The Department may issue a revocable special license to collect, possess, or sell for scientific or educational purposes any protected species, including threatened and endangered species. This Scientific Collector’s License will not be issued to individuals who wish to keep protected species as pets. While it is legal to keep unprotected turtle species as pets, it is not recommended because turtles carry many bacteria (such as Salmonella), and because of the negative impact this hobby can have on our native turtle populations. It is not legal to release an unwanted pet to the wild.
What species are protected? Which are listed as endangered or threatened?
The box turtle (includes all species of the genus Terrapene), bog turtle (Clemmys muhlenbergii), wood turtle (Clemmys insculpta) and all species of frogs and toads are protected as small game species. The definition of small game also includes all land turtles (ECL 11-0103), which has been interpreted as meaning all native turtles except the sea turtles. Therefore all native turtles are protected and require a permit to collect. Specific regulations are being prepared. A small game hunting license or a fishing license is required to take (kill or collect) frogs. Frogs may be taken in any number from 16 June through 30 September between sunrise and sunset. A special permit is required to take diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) (see below).
The bog turtle, tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), cricket frog (Acris crepitans), mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Atlantic ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), queen snake (Regina septemvittata), and eastern massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) are all listed as endangered in New York State. The Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), northern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus), timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) are all listed as threatened. Endangered or threatened species (or any part thereof) may not be taken, possessed, transported, or sold without a special license from the Department. A permit is also required to possess all non-native species that are listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
What about turtles in the local pet store?
Public Health Law, rather than Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), regulates the sale of unprotected turtles in the state. Turtles must have a carapace length of greater than 4 inches to be sold legally.
I heard that there are special laws that apply only to the diamondback terrapin.
Yes, that’s true. The diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) was given protection in 1990 as a result of a petition from the New York Tortoise and Turtle Society filed under the authority of ECL-0311. Individuals who have obtained a special license may take terrapins from 1 August to 30 April annually. Sale is allowed from 1 August to 4 May. Only terrapins with a straight line carapace length between 4 and 7 inches inclusive may be taken or sold. A license is required to take and costs $10 annually. [For more information, see Protection for Diamondback Terrapin in New York State.]
My kids love to collect frogs and observe them for a few days. Are there any laws governing this activity?
Yes. Frogs (and toads) are listed as a small game species and it is necessary to have a fishing or hunting license to take them. Unlike the box, bog and wood turtles, frogs do have an open season and only species of the genus Rana can be taken. Special restrictions are placed on Leopard Frogs on Long Island. Frogs may be taken in any number from 16 June through 30 September between sunrise and sunset. Make sure the frogs are kept moist and are returned to the same pond from which they were taken.
Do amphibians and reptiles get the same protection against cruelty as other wildlife?
As a matter of fact, they do! Turtles are covered under the Consolidated Laws of New York dealing with animal cruelty. Presumably all species of amphibians and reptiles are included under this court decision.
Is it okay for me to release turtles in my pond?
No, not without a permit. In New York State you must obtain a special permit from the Department in order to release any species of wildlife, fish or shellfish into the wild. This law is intended to prevent the spread of infectious diseases from one population to another and to prevent exotic species from becoming a problem to native species.
What if I see a violation of any of these laws?
To report a violation of any wildlife or otherwise environmentally related law, call 1 800 TIPP DEC.
How do I go about obtaining a permit or special license?
You can apply for a permit, license, or special license by writing to the Department’s Special Licenses Unit at 50 Wolf Road, Albany, NY 12233-4752.
If you have any questions relating to amphibians and reptiles that are not addressed here, please contact NYSDEC, Endangered Species Unit, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754.