Western Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia miaria)
Often found basking near water, the Western Chicken turtle, or Deirochelys reticularia miaria. A small to medium-sized turtle with an egg-shaped shell, it can grow to be 4 – 6 inches in length. It’s easily identified by its extraordinarily long, striped neck and oval brown or olive shell.
Listed as a federal candidate species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to make a final listing decision in 2024 as to whether the western chicken turtle will be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Western chicken turtles are rare, and the current distribution of the species is not well known. They can be collected with a hunting permit.
These turtles are found in still water habitats, including swamps, ponds and lakes. They will also migrate between habitats to search for more suitable conditions.
Males reach sexual maturity in two-to-four years, and females reach sexual maturity in six-to-eight years. In the first year of life, western chicken turtles are carnivorous, becoming more omnivorous as they mature. Some have reached maximum ages of 24 years.
Breeding season can be either late fall into winter or winter into early spring. Embryos can pause their development, it can either be a short pause, or it can last over the winter. Cold temperatures must be experienced before development will continue.
In 2014, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Natural Resources Institute at Texas A&M University started a research project to estimate historic and current population trends, conduct field surveys and model availability of suitable habitat. One of the most important results of this effort was the identification of the elusive nature of the western chicken turtle and that traditional turtle survey methods were not appropriate for this animal.
In 2019, the CPA contracted with Environmental Institute of Houston at the University of Houston – Clear Lake to perform a study evaluating the effectiveness of new survey techniques at locating western chicken turtles, and where located gather data on habitat utilized by the turtle.
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