The egg-shaped carapace is rough textured without keels or marginal serrations and tends to be olive to brown in color. The vertebralscutes are broad, the first of which connects to four marginal and the cervical scute. The marginal scutes are yellow and may be blotched. The yellow plastron is unhinged and unmarked with the bridges containing one or two dark splotches. The skin of the western chicken turtle is olive to brown with yellow lines extending from the head across the neck, from the shoulder to the feet and vertically on the rump. The long narrow head comes to a point at the beak, which is neither hooked nor notched. The western chicken turtle received its common name from its long head and neck, which tends to be as long as the plastron. This species also exhibits sexual dimorphism with the female being larger than males.
The western chicken turtle ranges across the southeastern United States from Virginia to western Oklahoma and south to the Gulf of Mexico. There are three recognized subspecies: The Florida chicken turtle (D. r. chrysea) of the Floridapeninsula, the western chicken turtle (D. r. miaria) of western Mississippi and all areas west of the Mississippi River, and the eastern chicken turtle (D. r. reticularia) which extends across the rest of the range. The western chicken turtle can be distinguished by its flattened shape, broad, faint lines on the carapace, and dark makings along the seams of the plastron.
Most of what is known about this turtle has been reported in studies on the eastern subspecies (D. r. reticularia) in South Carolina.
There, it is known to inhabit still waters, ponds, ditches, sloughs, and swamps. Fluctuating water with abundant aquatic vegetation is the optimal habitat. It is omnivorous and preys primarily on invertebrates. The western chicken turtle will bask and frequently travels overland for a variety of activities including nesting, migration, estivation and hibernation. The eastern chicken turtle exhibits a bimodal nesting pattern; nesting both in August – September and February – March.