eastern chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia reticularia)
A medium-sized turtle with a carapace (top of shell) that has a reticulated (netlike) yellow pattern on a dark brown to black background. In adults, the carapacial pattern can be quite faded. The patternless plastron (bottom of shell) is yellow with (or without) black streaks on the bridge area. Black spots occur on the plastral side of the marginal scutes. The wide, flattened head with a notably long neck has two or three yellow stripes. The front feet and legs have a broad yellow stripe on black skin, while the feet have multiple thin yellow stripes. Feet are weakly webbed. Females are larger than males and have a highly domed carapace. The pattern is much bolder in hatchlings and juveniles.
Chicken Turtles may reach sexual maturity in about two years, which is quick in comparison to most other species of turtle. Females usually lay two clutches within a year (5-13 eggs) in early spring and again in late August and September. If eggs are deposited in late summer, hatchlings will not emerge until the following spring. Beginning in early October, they will begin to leave their aquatic habitats to hibernate terrestrially. During the summer when their aquatic habitats begin to dry, Chicken Turtles will aestivate (temporary period of dormancy) in the surrounding forest and wait for the rains to refill the wetlands. Chicken Turtles are carnivorous actively hunting a variety of aquatic invertebrates and amphibian larvae. Females particularly favor crayfish. The name Chicken Turtle most likely comes from a 1800s printed account which stated that “the turtle is more palatable than the cooter, and in fact tastes like chicken”.
Southeastern Virginia is the northern limit of this species and only two isolated populations are known to occur. One in Isle of Wight County and the other at First Landing (formerly Seashore) State Park in Virginia Beach. They inhabit interdunal ponds and sinkhole complexes that experience seasonal water fluctuations and are free of predatory fish.
This carnivorous turtle eats tadpoles, salamander larvae, aquatic invertebrates, dragonflies and crayfish.