Often found basking near water, the elusive Western Chicken Turtle, or Deirochelys reticularia miaria, is easily identified by its extraordinarily long, striped neck.
According to the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, its neck is so long that it can extend to 70% of the length of the turtle's shell, giving the Western Chicken Turtle an advantage in capturing its preferred diet of crayfish, fish, tadpoles and other small vertebrates and invertebrates.
Environmental Institute of Houston at the University of Houston
And no, it doesn't look like a chicken.
The freshwater species is one of three candidate species currently monitored by the Brazos River Authority. The other two include the Texas Fawnsfoot and the Balcones Spike mussels.
The Western Chicken Turtle was petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2010, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is completing an in-depth review of the species, expected to be issued in 2025.
Western Chicken Turtles are presumed to be rare, and the species' current distribution is not well known, though they do find themselves in Texas. Their range includes the Gulf Coast Plains west of the Mississippi River, which includes Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
The Western Chicken Turtle is a small to medium-sized turtle with an egg-shaped, brown or olive shell.
The Latin name reticularia means "net-like" and refers to the net-like pattern of lighter-colored rings on its shell, according to the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute. The easiest way to identify one is by looking at its front legs. The Western Chicken Turtle is the only species within its range that has one solid yellow bar on each front leg.
The turtle can grow up to 10 inches in length and typically lives in wetlands from February to July, then migrates upland to bury underground for the remainder of the year. It's hard to find a turtle that stays buried that long.
There are many stories regarding the naming of the Western Chicken Turtle, according to the Wildlife Center of Texas.
"One theory is that the color of the belly portion of the shell (plastron) reminds one of a newly hatched Chicken, another is that the long neck looks like a Chicken's and finally that it tastes like Chicken. Whatever the origin of the name, the turtle is an interesting link between "regular" pond turtles and the long-necked soft-shelled turtles." – Wildlife Center of Texas
The Environmental Institute of Houston at the University of Houston-Clear Lake is currently researching the population status and habitat associations of the Western Chicken Turtle across its Texas range. So, if you see one, report your sighting here as part of their citizen-science-based online reporting tool.
The Western Chicken Turtle came on the BRA's radar as it is an aquatic organism with potential federal protection that has been seen in an area where the BRA is planning to place a reservoir, said Justin Grimm, Brazos River Authority's environmental programs coordinator.
But there's still a lot of research to see if these turtles are residing anywhere near the Allens Creek Reservoir, a proposed water supply storage reservoir planned for construction near the city of Wallis in Austin County.
Cooperating with other agencies and institutions in research, the BRA is helping to expand the knowledge base of this turtle, Grimm said.
Learn more about other species monitored by the BRA's environmental services department here.