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What is a Chicken Turtle?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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The chicken turtle is a fairly rare type of turtle native to the Southeastern United States. There are three types of these turtles: the Western, the Eastern, and the Florida. All have long necks and distinctive stripes on their rear legs.

The native range of the Eastern and Western varieties is defined by the Mississippi River; as the names suggest, the Eastern is found east of the Mississippi, and the Western to the west. The Florida chicken turtle is the most localized of the three species, and is found only in southern Florida. The chicken turtle thrives in warmer environments, usually where the water is around 75°F (about 23°C), and it can bask on sunny, warm rocks where the temperature is upward of 85°F (about 29°C). As it prefers these warm temperatures, it is more commonly found in the southern part of the country.

The turtle has a typically drab green or brown shell patterned with yellow and a matching stripe down each of the front legs. Among the most distinctive of the chicken turtle's markings is the set of vertical stripes along the rear legs and tail. The yellow on the shell and the stripes are the widest on the Florida species, but prominent on all. The female is typically larger than the male, and most have a shell between 4 and 6 inches (about 10 to 15 cm) in length, although some females in captivity can easily reach 12 inches (30 cm).

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Easily kept as a pet, the chicken turtle can be kept quite happy on insects and vegetables similar to those that wild turtles feed on. These turtles do well when kept in groups, and require fresh water and stones to sun themselves on; temperatures of water and air should be monitored to reflect those in their natural environments. Pairs of chicken turtles will usually breed in captivity, laying up to 10 eggs in a season. Very alert, this turtle is generally well aware of things going on outside of the enclosure, and will react to its owners. Once accustomed to the surroundings and the voice of the owner, the chicken turtle can become a very tame, easy to handle pet.

In the wild, the turtle can commonly be found in various bodies of fresh water, where it tolerates anything from still ponds and lakes to fast-moving rivers. A social turtle, it can often be found living in groups. If the temperature drops below levels that the chicken turtle finds acceptable, it will hibernate until warm temperatures return.

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