Ben here with the Thursday edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & ...

Ben here with the Thursday edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & ...

Ben here with the Thursday edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!

Behold our number two pick for Virginia's rarest turtle: Deirochelys reticularia reticularia, the eastern chicken turtle!

The eastern chicken turtle is one of three recognized subspecies of chicken turtle; the other two are the Florida chicken turtle and the western chicken turtle. You might be wondering how they get their unusual name. Unfortunately, it's because ... well ... you know the old joke about how something "tastes like chicken?" Apparently these guys used to be a big hit at the dinner table.

Chicken turtles are found in the southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain, and in some parts of their range -- South Carolina, for example -- they're not terribly hard to find. It's a different story in Virginia, however. In fact, chicken turtles weren't even discovered in Virginia until 1958! In the commonwealth, these unique turtles have only been recorded in Isle of Wight County and the city of Virginia Beach, and they're listed as an endangered species in Virginia due to their very small population.

The population of chicken turtles in Virginia can be found in freshwater interdunal (between coastal sand dunes) cypress ponds, and as of now, the only known living population is located within First Landing State Park (formerly Seashore State Park) in Virginia Beach. They seem to primarily feed on arthropods such as crayfish. The biggest danger that the Virginia population faces is likely predation from raccoons and snapping turtles, both of which are abundant at First Landing. Unfortunately, no juveniles have been found in the park despite active search efforts, so given the lifespan of these turtles, it's possible they could be extirpated in Virginia within the next 10-15 years.

While the eastern chicken turtle is pretty secure throughout the rest of its range, it would definitely be a shame to have the species disappear from Virginia. Hopefully efforts can be made to protect these striking (and apparently delicious) turtles!

Thank you to the Virginia Herpetological Society ( for the use of this photo, which was taken by John White.

ABOUT #BenInNature
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends. This series of posts is made possible thanks to the support of VMNH Corporate Partner Carter Bank & Trust (

If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!

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