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HICKATEE TURTLES

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hickatee turtle 

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 tail.

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 cream-colored.

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.

Despite their 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 vehicle.

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


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