The western chicken turtle is a small to medium-sized freshwater turtle that is easily identified by its extraordinarily long, striped neck. The egg-shaped carapace (top half of the shell) is rough textured and tends to be olive to brown in color with a faint cream, yellow, or orange netlike pattern. The rim of the shell is bordered with yellow. The plastron, or bottom half of the shell, is yellow and unmarked except for a few dark marks along the seams of the scutes (individual plates that comprise the shell). The head is small, and the front legs have a wide yellow stripe down the front. The hind legs are striped with alternating light and dark lines on the rear surface. The tail is relatively short, with the tail of the male noticeably longer than that of the female. The western chicken turtle is often observed basking on or near water, but can also be encountered traveling on land. Though generally shy, individuals may bite when intimidated.
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