Description: Chicken Turtles are mid-sized
turtles (6-9 in; 15-23 cm carapace length) with shells that are egg-shaped
(widest over the hind legs) and patterned with a pale yellowish netlike pattern.
This species has an extremely long neck that is striped with yellow and also
has vertical black and yellow stripes on the "seat of its pants."
The plastron is usually yellow and unmarked and females reach larger sizes than
Range and Habitat: Chicken turtles are found in the Coastal
Plain of the southeastern U.S. but are 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.
Habits: Chicken Turtles occasionally
bask but spend most of their time in the water. They hunt amidst aquatic vegetation
for prey which includes aquatic insects, amphibian larvae, small fish, and especially
crayfish. 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. Chicken Turtles are unusual among turtles
in that they have a winter egg-laying period that begins in late summer and early
fall, 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. This
species has a much "faster" life-history than other turtles in our region,
meaning that young grow and mature quickly and adults do not live long (usually
less than 15 yrs.) as other turtle species that share their range. 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
Conservation Status: Chicken Turtles are fairly common
in our region and are not protected. However, the reliance of this species on
temporary wetlands and its extensive use of both aquatic and terrestrial habitats
make it potentially vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation.
Buhlmann, Kurt A. Habitat Use, Terrestrial Movements, and
Conservation of the Turtle Deirochelys reticularia in Virginia. Journal
of Herpetology. Vol. 29 (173-181). 1995.
Buhlmann, K. A. and J. W. Gibbons.
2001. Terrestrial habitat use by aquatic turtles from a seasonally fluctuating
wetland: implications for wetland conservation boundaries. Chelonian Conservation
and Biology 4:115-127.
Gibbons, J. W. and J. L. Greene. 1978. Selected
aspects of the ecology of the chicken turtle, Deirochelys reticularia (Latreille)
(Reptilia, Testudines, Emydidae). Journal of Herpetology 12: 237-241.
J. W., J. L. Greene and J. D. Congdon. 1983. Drought-related responses of aquatic
turtle populations. Journal of Herpetology 17:242-246.
Patia M. Connell, University of Georgia - edited by J.D. Willson and Judith Greene