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Deirochelys reticularia

Chicken Turtle

The Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia) is an uncommon freshwater turtle found in the southeast of the United States.


They are similar in appearance to the Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta), but have an unusually long, striped neck with a yellow stripe on both the forelegs and rear legs. It has a distinguishable net-like pattern on its carapace. The carapace is pear-shaped, and is an olive to dark brown. Females are usually larger than the males, and males have a longer, thicker tail.


Chicken turtles are regularly encountered on land, migrating between aquatic habitats or seeking areas to burrow into the soil and escape dry conditions. Males generally move farther than females. They spend much of their time basking. Chicken turtles hibernate in the soft mud and vegetation of bodies of water.


Wild chicken turtles have been recaptured up to 15 years old after their first capture. Some reached the maximum ages of 20 to 24 years.


Chicken Turtles, made up of three subspecies, are found in suitable habitat throughout the southeastern United States. Deirochelys reticularia is found in the coastal areas of Virginia to Texas and northward Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Florida subspecies, D. r. chrysea, is limited to peninsular Florida. The Eastern, D. r. reticularia, and Western, D. r. miaria, subspecies of chicken turtles are separated by Mississippi River. It is a basking turtle, and they can often be found wandering far from water. Chicken Turtle meat used to be popular in southern markets.


Chicken turtles are semi-aquatic turtles, found both water and land. They prefer quiet bodies of water: Ponds, lakes, ditches, marshes, cypress swamps, and Carolina Bays. They prefer water with plenty of vegetation and soft substrate. Chicken turtles are tolerant of ephemeral aquatic habitats and readily travel onto land to burrow into the soil and escape dry conditions. They been found at water depths of a few centimeters to more than 2 m.


Males court female chicken turtles by vibrating the fore-claws against the female's face. Once the female is receptive, copulation occurs. Chicken turtles are different from most other North American turtles because they nest in either the fall and winter. In South Carolina there are two-egg laying seasons; from winter to early spring (February to may) and fall to early winter (August to November). Females excavate cylindrical nest on land in a variety of soil types, from sandy to heavy soils. Females lay 2 to 19 clutches of eggs. Chicken turtle embryos go through a period of dispause in the late gastrula stage. They must experience a period of cool temperatures before development proceeds. Eggs hatch in 152 days at 29 degree Celsius, some eggs may overwinter in the nest before hatching. Incubation temperature influences the sex of the embryos, with a 25 degrees Celsius incubation temperature resulting in all males. Warmer temperatures result in an increase in female embryos, with only 11 percent becoming males at incubation temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius.


Chicken Turtles are omnivorous, eating crayfish, fish, fruits, insects, invertebrates, frogs, and tadpoles as well as plants. Chicken turtles use their well-developed hyoid apparatus to create suction that pulls food items into their throat.

Conservation status

Chicken turtle populations are currently considered stable throughout their range, although they do face potential threats. Habitat destruction reduces suitable habitat for foraging, migration, and hibernation. Chicken turtle are sometimes killed on roads as they migrate between habitats. Hunting for food also impacts populations of chicken turtles


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)

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