Eastern Chicken Turtle
Deirochelys reticularia reticularia

Common Name:

Chicken Turtle

Scientific Name:

Deirochelys reticularia reticularia



Deirochelys is derived from the Greek word deire which means "neck" and chelys which means "tortoise".


reticularia is from the Latin word reticulatus which means netlike referring to the pattern on the carapace.


reticularia is from the Latin word reticulatus which means net like referring to thepattern on the carapace.

Average Length:

4 - 6 in. (10 - 15.2 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

7.9 in. (20 cm)

Record length:

10 in. (25.4 cm)

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier I - Critical Conservation Need - Faces an extremely high risk of extinction or extirpation. Populations of these species are at critically low levels, facing immediate threat(s), or occur within an extremely limited range. Intense and immediate management action is needed.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This species is similar in appearance to Chrysemys picta but has an extraordinarily long neck, its elongated, finely wrinkled, and reticulated carapace, and there is a vertical striping on the rump. Average length is about 5 inches but it ranges between 10-25 cm. The carapace is an olive brown with a netlike pattern of yellowish markings. Scute pattern on the carapace is 12/12 marginals, 4/4 vertebrals and 5 vertebrals. 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. Neck when extended may be as long as the carapace *10760,11284,11624*. Five adult females from the VA population measured 153.7-200.0 mm carapace length and 139.1-180.0 mm plastron length. Two females weighed 523 g and 974 g. Three adult males were 117.8-144.6 mm carapace length, 103.4-129.2 mm plastron length, and weighed 205-391 mm g. The cloacal opening extends beyond the posterior edge of the carapace in males *10760,11624*. Juveniles are colored and patterned as adults but are brighter. No hatchlings have been found in Virginia but hatchlings from Florida had a PL of 28-32 mm and weighed 8.1-9.0 g *10760*. The long neck is a very distinguishing characteristic. May be confused with Chrysemys picta which has a flattened shell, and 2 yellow spots behind each eye. Pseudemys rubriventris have reddish vertical streaks on the carapace and Trachemys scripta have yellow or red patches behind the eye *10760*.

REPRODUCTION: Mating occurs in shallow waters. This species may nest at anytime during the year and no description of reproductive behavior has been published. Female can retain eggs for up to 6 months when nesting conditions are not right. When she does lay she may lay 7 to 15 eggs. South Carolina studies show a clutch size from 5-11 eggs which average 35x21 mm. Females may lay up to two clutches per year, one in early spring and one in fall. The earliest egg-laying date in South Carolina is mid-February, possibly March in Virginia. The size at maturity is 141-154 mm plastron length for females and 75-80 mm plastron length for males. Hatchlings, especially those from fall eggs, overwinter in the nest and emerge the next spring. The biology of the Virginia population is unknown *9286* *10760*.

BEHAVIOR: Chicken turtles are basking turtles, sometimes seen on logs and stumps. They are omnivores and have been observed to eat crayfish, tadpoles and aquatic plants. As juveniles they are more carnivorous. This species is given to wandering long distances from water and can often be found along road sides and in flat woods. They are active between March and September and hibernate during the rest of the months in muskrat burrows or buried in the mud at the bottom of ponds. They will forage on land or in the water and feeding occurs usually in the morning or late afternoon. They are more active on cloudy rather then sunny days. They will escape predation by diving into the mud and swimming through it They are non-territorial *10760* *9286.*

LIMITING FACTORS: 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. ORIGIN: This is a native species. Population in Virginia seems to be an isolated one *10760* *11332*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: Recruitment of juveniles into the populations of most turtle species, including the chicken turtle, is dangerously low *9286*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: Requires still-water habitats *11284*.

References for Life History

  • 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 amphibans of eastern and central North America 2nd.ed., 429 pgs., Houghton Mifflin, Boston
  • 9286 - Terwilliger, K.T., 1991, Virginia's endangered species: Proceedings of a symposium. Coordinated by the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries, Nongame and Endangered Species Program, 672 pp. pgs., McDonald and Woodward Publ. Comp., Blacksburg, VA
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11284 - Wilson, L.A., 1995, Land manager's guide to the amphibians and reptiles of the South, 360 pp. pgs., The Nature Conservancy, Southeastern Region, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 11624 - Mitchell, J. C., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert review for GAP Analysis Project, Mitchell Ecological Research LLC


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Verified County/City Occurrence

Isle of Wight County
Virginia Beach City
Verified in 2 Counties/Cities.


Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.


We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.


Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.


The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.


Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.