The Elusive Chicken Turtle has been found at First Landing State Park
A state endangered species, the chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia) is a semiaquatic species that is only known to occur at two locations in Virginia, one being First Landing State Park. Since 2006, Virginia State Parks’ District Resource Specialist Erik Molleen and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Biologist, J.D. Kleopfer, have been searching for the chicken turtle as part of an ongoing research project.
The rarely seen, endangered Chicken Turtle was thought lost to the park
On July 30th, 2012, Old Dominion University biology intern, Justin Westerfield, was checking the traps, and found a chicken turtle in one of park’s interdunal ponds. The common name is believed to have come from an 1800’s written account of how it was the most palatable of all the freshwater turtles, and that it “tasted like chicken”.
A small population of less than 10 chicken turtles was documented at the park in the early 1990’s. However, only one turtle had been found since then and it was believed that they may have been extirpated from the First Landing State Park. Because they spend just as much time on land as they do in the water and are highly mobile, this lifestyle makes them highly vulnerable to predation from foxes and raccoons, and interactions with vehicles.
Research staff set the turtle nets in the interdunal ponds
Biologist have attached a transmitter to the turtle the hopes of finding important behavioral and habitat information about this species. They hope that this turtle will lead them to other chicken turtles. In Virginia, chicken turtles are known to inhabit interdunal swales, feeding primarily on aquatic invertebrates such as crayfish and dragonflies. Information gathered during this investigation will contribute to larger conservation efforts to protect chicken turtles in Virginia.
Drive Time: Northern Virginia, three and a half hours; Richmond, two hours; Tidewater/Norfolk/Virginia Beach, 20-30 minutes (this facility is in the area); Roanoke, five and a half hours.
For a Google map to the park, please click here.