Animal Information

The Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia) History and Info.

The species is not currently considered globally endangered, though some peripheral populations (e.g., those in Missouri and Virginia) are listed as locally endangered.

The Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia)  is a semi-aquatic turtle that is similar in appearance to the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta), but has an unusually long neck.

First described as Testudo reticularia by Latreille in 1801. Animals are often reclassified. With science having more and more access to sophisticated testing methods and DNA advancements, they are now placing proper families together.

The genus name means hill, or hump, turtle, referring to the domed carapace of the female (or “apparently an allusion to the extremely long neck. Reticularia means netted refers to the carapacial net-like pattern. Miaria means “stained”; referring to the dark plastral pattern.

This reptile is found in the Coastal Plain of the southeastern U.S. but is absent from the Piedmont and Mountains.

This species may be found in a variety of heavily-vegetated aquatic habitats but is generally absent from large permanent ponds and reservoirs. Chicken Turtles are most common in shallow, still waters, particularly ephemeral and seasonal wetlands with abundant vegetation. Chicken turtles are basking turtles, sometimes seen on logs and stumps.

This species has a much “faster” life-history than other American aquatic freshwater turtles, meaning that young grow and mature quickly and adults do not live as long as other species. Wild chicken turtles have been recaptured up to 15 years after their first capture. Some reached the known maximum ages of 20 to 24 years.

  • There are three distinct sub-species of Chicken turtle:
    • Eastern chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia reticularia)
    • Florida chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia chrysea)
    • Western chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia miaria)
  1. Florida Chicken have broad orange or yellow lines on the carapace, a wide color band on the carapace rim, no markings on the plastron.
  2. Eastern Chicken are duller in color compared to Florida chickens, narrow green or brown lines on the carapace, a more narrow color band on the carapace rim, black markings on the underside of the lateral & rear marginals.
  3. Western Chicken  displays a flatter carapace, broad but faint lines on the carapace and has dark markings along the plastron seams 

Deirochelys reticularia (Family Emydidae)

The Chicken Turtle

This species is among the most terrestrial of our turtles and nearly all males and some females leave the wetland each fall to spend the winter buried in the forest. 

Additionally, during drought this species aestivates in uplands rather than migrating to other wetlands. 

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.

Much that is known about the ecology of Chicken Turtles is derived from population studies conducted at the Savannah River Ecology Lab, particularly the work of Dr. Kurt Buhlmann.

Reproduction

This species of turtle must be 2-5 years old before they reach sexual maturity. Chicken Turtles are unusual among turtles in that they have a winter egg-laying period that begins in late summer and early fall.

This odd evolutionary trait declines during the coldest months and resumes again in February and March. Eggs overwinter in the nest and emerge a year or more after eggs were laid. 

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 chicken turtles 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 an of cool temperatures before development proceeds. Eggs hatch in 152 days at 84.2 Fahrenheit. Some hatchlings, especially those from fall eggs, overwinter in the nest and emerge next spring.

Behavior

Chicken Turtles are 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.

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

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.

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