General Animal Information

The Chicken Turtle?

The Chicken Turtle is a  semi-aquatic  turtle inhabiting temporary and permanent freshwater and adjacent terrestrial habitats. They love throughout much of the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains of the USA. Three subspecies are recognized: Deirochelys reticularia, Deirochelys chrysea, and Deirochelys miaria.

The Chicken Turtle

Deirochelys reticularia (Family Emydidae)
The Chicken Turtle
Male Chicken Turtle

First of all local population sizes are generally small.  The species differs from most other North American turtles because it has a nesting season that extends from fall to spring. Followed by a  long incubation  period. Furthermore, threats to this species come from the disruption, destruction, or isolation of freshwater wetlands, including small or temporary ones. Consequently the elimination or alteration of surrounding terrestrial habitats. Most noteworthy, the species is not currently considered globally endangered. While some peripheral populations (e.g., those in Missouri and Virginia) are listed as locally endangered.

The Chicken Turtle is beautiful

Chicken Turtles are  mid-sized turtles  with shells that are egg-shaped. These reptiles can get 6-9 inches long. Scute pattern on the carapace is 12/12 marginals, 4/4 vertebral and 5 vertebrae. The plastron is hingeless and is 88-91 % of the carapace length. It is yellow and may have a faded dark blotch on the posterior half. The skin is black with distinctive thin yellow stripes on the back legs and neck. The  front  of each  foreleg  has a broad yellow stripe. Furthermore, the neck when extended may be as long as the carapace.

Reproduction

Since mating occurs in shallow waters, this species may nest at any time during the year. Consequently, no description of reproductive behavior has been published. Female can retain eggs for up to 6 months when nesting conditions are not right. Therefore when she does lay she may lay 2 to 15 eggs.  Chicken turtle embryos go through a period of diapause in the late gastrula stage. They must experience a period of cool temperatures before development proceeds. Eggs hatch in 152 days at 29 Celsius. Hatchlings, especially those from fall eggs, overwinter in the nest and emerge next spring.

Behavior

Chicken turtles are basking turtles, sometimes seen on logs and stumps. Since the Chicken Turtle is omnivores, these reptiles will eat Insects, rodents, fish, crayfish, tadpoles and aquatic plants. As  juveniles , they are more carnivorous. Because this species is given to wandering long distances from the water it can often be found along roadsides and in flat woods. In fact, they are active between March and September. While they hibernate for the rest of the months in animal burrows or buried in the mud at the bottom of ponds. This turtle will forage on land or in the water and feeding occurs usually in the morning or late afternoon. Also, they are more active on cloudy rather than sunny days. Furthermore, they will escape predation by diving into the mud and swim through it. In conclusion, the Chicken Turtle is non-territorial and live well with others.

Threats To To Wild Populations

This species for many years was a favorite soup turtle. Though turtle soup isn’t as popular in recent history it is still considered a good eating turtle by many in the southeast.

Threats to this species come from the disruption, destruction, or isolation of freshwater wetlands, including small or temporary ones, and the elimination or alteration of surrounding terrestrial habitats. The species is not currently considered globally endangered, though some peripheral populations (e.g., those in Missouri and Virginia) are listed as locally endangered.

Eastern moles (Scalopus aquaticus) are a significant predator of chicken turtle nests. As well as snapping turtles and bird of prey.

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References

  • 1027 – Carr, A.F., 1952, Handbook of Turtles. Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California, 542 pgs., Comstock Publ. Assoc., Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY
  • 3067 – Conant, R., 1978, Field guide to reptiles and amphibians of eastern and central North America 2nd.ed., 429 pgs., Houghton Mifflin, Boston

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