Dermatemys mawii, the Hickatee, a Central American
River turtle is such an aquatic turtle that it spends its entire life in or on the water, even sleeping and yet
they stay afloat. This fairly large turtle species attains a maximum of 25 inches in carapace length and can weigh
up to 44 pounds, 50 pounds if including the weight of the carapace or the turtle shell. Males can be differentiated
from females by yellow markings on either side of their head. They also have a longer and thicker
The female is somewhat
smaller, with a shorter tail and a gray head unadorned by the golden emblem and matching spotty insignia of the
male. The carapace, brown or olive drab, is only slightly curved; the ventral shell is
The female Hickatee
only leaves water when it has to eggs to lay, where, as many as sixteen eggs are deposited beneath the camouflage
of rotting vegetation. This 'mother' never looks back, never checks on the eggs she has just laid. The eggs she has
just laid incubates themselves.
The Belize coastal
lowlands are the normal home environment of the Hickatee along with the waterways of southern Mexico and northern
Guatemala. Deep and clear water is better, and Belize's many lagoons
are considered by the Hickatee to be prime residential areas.
When newly hatched a
Hickatee will begin life as meat-eaters, however, as they become adults they switch to a vegetarian diet. Ancient
Mayans prized turtle meat for food as well as for religious ceremonies. Turtle meat is still a highly prized
delicatessen today. Eggs of Sea Turtles are harvested in Belize for food.
The Hickatee is a
herbivore and its meat is eagerly sought after by carnivorous man. The Hickatee Turtle meat is a traditional Easter
meal in Belize which has helped to put this turtle on the critically endangered list. Further, the Hickatee is an
easy catch as they lazily drift on the water's surface unaware they are going to be knocked unconscious by a
well-aimed oar or simply picked up from a river bed in the dry season.
endangered status the Hickatee only has very limited protection in Belize with a one month closed season along
with no trading of Hickatee meat, a maximum of 3 are allowed to be caught per person and only five per
The Hickatee Turtle is one of the world's most heavily exploited turtles, having been
intensely harvested, primarily for its meat, but also for its eggs, carapace and even hatchlings are sold has food.
This turtle has been nearly eliminated from much of its former range in southern Mexico.
~ Anthony Benjamin