Three Chicken Turtles hatched in mid-April at the Tennessee Aquarium. The tiny trio hatched from eggs that were laid in January by adults in the Aquarium’s ‘Delta Swamp’ exhibit.
At their initial exam, each of these hatchlings measured less than two inches long. As adults, they will grow to about 10 inches in length.
The Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia) is an uncommon freshwater turtle native to the southeastern United States.
The name “chicken” commonly refers to the taste of their meat, which, at one time, was popular in southern U.S. markets. The species is characterized by a long neck and unique coloring, which could also contribute to the reason for their name.
The Tennessee Aquarium’s herpetologists often point out that Chicken Turtles look as if they are wearing striped pants when viewed from behind.
Chicken Turtles are semiaquatic turtles, found both in water and on land. They prefer quiet, still bodies of water such as shallow ponds and lakes, ditches, marshes, cypress swamps, and bays. They prefer water with dense vegetation and soft substrate.
The turtles are omnivorous, eating crayfish, fish, fruits, insects, invertebrates, frogs, tadpoles, and plants. During the first year of their lives, they are almost completely carnivorous.
Eggs hatch in about 152 days. The turtles lay eggs during the winter months, with the eggs hatching in the spring. The eggs undergo diapauses: meaning, the eggs don’t develop immediately after laying as with other species of turtles.
The Chicken Turtle is currently classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. 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 Turtles are sometimes killed while crossing roadways, as they migrate between habitats.