They are often confused with freshwater sliders and cooters because they are part of the same taxonomic family—Emydidae—which is the largest turtle family in the United States.
Here is how you can identify them:
The Florida chicken turtle has an oblong shell shape, web-type patterns on the carapace, a very long neck like a softshell turtle, and a characteristic black bar on the bridge (running alongside both sides of the turtle’s body). No other U.S. species possesses this black-barred bridge. Here, a Florida chicken turtle hatchling swims in a shallow marsh on Sanibel. Notice the web-like pattern on the carapace (top of the shell).
They also have an odd nesting pattern and even stranger incubation cycle. Chicken turtle eggs have been shown to go through a diapause (a pause in egg development)—the eggs don’t develop continuously as they do in other native turtles. Instead, they wait for an environmental cue, such as a seasonal temperature change or increased rainfall indicating the beginning of the rainy season. This is a common trait in many South American species of turtles, especially along the Amazon River. The longest-recorded incubation time for this species is around 18 months, whereas the duration for most of our turtles is around 60 days.
Because of this species’ unusual lifecycle and rarity, it’s easy to understand why Lechowicz is especially pleased that the sharp-eyed Becks quickly reached out to him about their find.
To report any findings of unusual terrestrial turtles, email email@example.com.