Chicken Turtle: Ultimate Guide

There are so many species of turtle in the world, it can be easy even for turtle lovers to forget about some of the lesser-known and less common species. 

The chicken turtle is one such freshwater turtle. It is not widespread in terms of its population, but this is a fascinating species, with three different subspecies to learn about. 

In today’s ultimate guide to the chicken turtle, we will be discussing all facets of this turtle’s life, both in the wild and in a domesticated sense. 

Keep reading to learn about the chicken turtle’s lifespan, care guidelines, behavioral patterns, and more!

Male vs. Female 

With certain species of turtle, it can be difficult to tell the females and males apart. Male and female chicken turtles, however, have some significant differences in their anatomy and appearance, which make it easier to identify the sex of each turtle. 

Overall, female chicken turtles are larger than the males, with adults of this species growing up to 25 cm in length, although they can remain as small as 10 cm in some cases. 

In terms of tail length and thickness, however, male chicken turtles surpass females. Their claws also tend to be longer.

You are also likely to notice that the females of the chicken turtle species have a more pronounced arch to their shells. 


People who are not experts in turtle anatomy may struggle to identify specific turtle species. However, the chicken turtle has one unique feature that will make it easy for anyone to identify. 

The chicken turtle, unlike any other turtle in the world, has a distinctive yellow stripe across each front leg. Chicken turtles also have vertical yellow stripes on their hind legs, so if you see a combination of these features, you can be sure you’re looking at a chicken turtle.

Additionally, a chicken turtle can be identified by looking at its shell. Chicken turtles have oval shells that are brown in color and covered with a yellow pattern that looks like a net. 

As a Pet 

Legally speaking, you can keep a chicken turtle as a pet. However, because the chicken turtle is a relatively uncommon freshwater species due to being declared as an endangered species in 1987, it’s not widely bred for domestication. 

Moreover, because the chicken turtle is not a commonly domesticated species, there are ethical concerns surrounding the keeping of a wild turtle as a pet. 


In the wild, chicken turtles can live up to between 20 and 24 years – that’s almost a quarter of a century!

However, researchers are not yet certain how life in captivity impacts the lifespan of the average chicken turtle. 


The chicken turtle has adapted very well to life in the wild, and its features are good indicators of how they have evolved to fend for themselves in their natural habitat. 

One of the most distinctive features of the chicken turtle is its very long neck, decorated with stripes. The length of this turtle’s neck serves an important purpose: it helps it to extend its head forwards quickly to snatch up food such as fish and invertebrates.

Chicken turtles are able to extend their necks so far because of the hinged vertebrae under their shells. 

Breeding Season

Chicken turtles have different breeding seasons depending on where they are in the world. Specifically, it is the latitude of the turtle’s environment that determines its mating season. 

Most commonly, chicken turtles breed in the 6-month period between September and March. 


Female chicken turtles gestate for between 5 and 6 months. At the end of this period, the female can lay up to 12 eggs at a time. 

Once the female turtle has laid her eggs, she will bury them in a soil nest. 

Again, depending on the latitude and temperature, the hatching period of these eggs can vary. Usually, it takes anywhere between 78 to 152 days. 

Growth Rate

The rate at which male and female chicken turtles reach maturity in terms of growth is very different. 

Most male chicken turtles reach full maturity when they reach 10 cm, while females typically are not fully mature until they surpass 17 cm. 

For males, this process doesn’t take as long. Male chicken turtles can be fully mature in as little as 2 years, although up to 4 years is standard. Female turtles will take longer to mature due to the size they need to reach. This usually takes between 6 and 8 years.

Although chicken turtles can grow to a maximum of roughly 25 cm, the average chicken turtle falls between 15.3 cm and 17.8 cm in length. 

Life Cycle 

Because of the differences between male and female chicken turtles, the life cycle of each sex is a little different. 

Chicken turtles can live between 20 and 24 years. After hatching from their eggs, ales reach maturity between 2 and 4 years, while females become mature between 6 and 8 years. 

Females can continue to lay eggs up to twice a year, although they typically have a decline in fertility as they get older. 


Nowadays, the chicken turtle population has stabilized in comparison to where it was many years ago. 

Despite no longer being considered an endangered species, chicken turtles are considered to be a threatened species in Virginia. 


Chicken turtles have quite varied diets, although most of their diet consists of aquatic animals. This can include fish, tadpoles, crayfish, larvae, and insects that live in the water. 

Chicken turtles can also eat other types of meat in small quantities, in addition to fruits and vegetables. They are primarily carnivorous, however. 


The main predators that threaten chicken turtles in the wild are raccoons, moles, and snapping turtles. 

Roaming Range 

The roaming range of the chicken turtle spans the Southeastern Coastal Plain of the United States, with the exception of the mountain ranges and Piedmont area. 


Chicken turtles are susceptible to the same diseases that commonly affect the majority of aquatic turtles.

If their diet does not meet their nutritional needs, chicken turtles can develop a disease called ‘soft shell’. This disease causes softness in the shell in addition to weakness and fragile bones. 

Chicken turtles can also suffer from bacterial and fungal diseases, primarily of the shell, respiratory system, skin, digestive tract, and ears. 

Of course, as with all turtles, chicken turtles may carry salmonella. 

Eye Color

Chicken turtles have distinctive eyes with either a partial or full bar traversing the pupil. The irises are yellow, while the pupils are black. 


In October, chicken turtles often look for cool, muddy areas to hibernate in. Usually, they will choose areas such as wetlands, where they can burrow into the mud. 

Can They Swim?

Not only can chicken turtles swim, they actually spend most of their lives in the water. Chicken turtles are very efficient swimmers because of their webbed feet.


If you’re going to keep a chicken turtle as a pet, you’ll need to provide an enclosure with plenty of clean and properly aerated water for your turtle to enjoy. 

The turtle will also need a basking spot to keep warm and soak up the sun as needed, as well as simply taking a rest after swimming.

The tank or enclosure should be at least 84 inches long and 20 inches deep. 48 inches is the optimal width. 

A single female chicken turtle will need a 125-gallon tank to herself because of her larger size, while 2 males could share a 75-gallon tank quite comfortably. 

Make sure to fill your turtle’s tank with plenty of plant matter, including driftwood and non-toxic plants. Alternatively, fake plants can help to make the turtle’s environment feel more natural and comfortable. 

Clean the tank regularly using a terrarium cleaner to prevent bacterial infection. 

Feed your chicken turtle a diet of small fish, tadpoles, aquatic insects, and crustaceans. Once the turtle reaches maturity, you can introduce vegetation such as water lettuce. Back this up with a Calcium and Vitamin D3 supplement to prevent diseases.


A chicken turtle is not an inexpensive animal to keep as a pet by any means. You can expect to pay anywhere between $130 to $300 for a chicken turtle depending on the stage of life, the health of the turtle, and who you buy from. 

Plus, the additional expenses of keeping a turtle can add up to at least $200 per year, if not more. In some cases, providing for your turtle (especially if extensive healthcare is involved) can cost as much as $500 per year. 

Therefore, bringing home a chicken turtle is certainly not a decision to take lightly, for both ethical and financial reasons. 

Fun Facts 

  • The chicken turtle has been so named because of the flavor of its meat, which consumers found to taste similar to poultry. 
  • Chicken turtles are so tolerant of environmental pollution that they have been found living in sewage ponds. 
  • Chicken turtles mature quicker than the vast majority of other aquatic turtles found in the United States.