Western Chicken Turtle

Deirochelys reticularia miaria
Species of Conservation Concern

Emydidae (basking, marsh, and box turtles) in the order Testudines (turtles and tortoises)


A small- to medium-sized turtle with an oval shell and extremely long neck, the western chicken turtle is one of the rarest species of turtle in Missouri. It looks somewhat flattened due to the low, broad shape of the shell. The upper shell may be brown or olive, with faint, yellowish-brown lines forming a netlike pattern over the shell. The lower shell is yellow with some brown color along the scute seams. The head and limbs are brown or black with numerous yellow or yellow-green stripes. The underside of the head and neck is plain yellow.


Upper shell length: 4 to 6 inches.

Habitat and conservation

This semiaquatic species prefers still to slow-moving aquatic habitats, including swamps, river sloughs, oxbow lakes, and drainage ditches. It spends much time basking in the sun on logs with its long neck stretched out. This species is known to wander about on land. Due to habitat loss, the western chicken turtle is an endangered species in our state.


This species is carnivorous throughout its life. They are known to eat dragonfly and damselfly larvae, crayfish, and fishing spiders, plus other invertebrates.

image of Western Chicken Turtle Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Mississippi Lowlands in the extreme southeastern part of the state. North American distribution ranges to northwestern Mississippi, most of Louisiana, and west to southeastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas.


Endangered in Missouri; a Species of Conservation Concern. At one time the western chicken turtle was probably common in the swamps of extreme southeastern Missouri. Now only a couple of locations are known. Destruction of swampy habitat in the Bootheel is the main cause for their decline.

Life cycle

In Missouri, this turtle probably is active from mid-March to October. Winter dormancy is spent in the mud of swamps, but they might sometimes overwinter on land in open forests. Courtship and mating probably occur in spring and early summer. The female can retain the eggs for months, laying about 5–15 eggs in loose soil about 4 inches below ground, in late summer and fall. Hatching probably occurs in the fall or the following spring. Upper shell length of hatchlings is about 1¼ inches.

Human connections

The name “chicken turtle” apparently comes from the flavor of the flesh, which was said to taste like chicken. Of course, due to this animal’s endangered status, hunting or killing them is illegal in Missouri.

Ecosystem connections

Western chicken turtles help control populations of the relatively small animals they eat. But many predators eat turtles, especially the eggs and hatchlings, which are relatively defenseless. Even insects can attack a turtle nest and eat the eggs before they hatch.