Spiny Softshell Turtle

Spiny Softshell Turtle
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  • Item #: SSS

Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera

Identification:  Smooth, flat, "rubbery," skin-covered shell lacks scutes and has flexible edges. Brown or olive carapace covered with black circles and spots in males and juveniles, dark blotches in females. Nose long and pig like, all feet fully webbed. The underside of the shell is while (yellow in some); the undersides of the limbs may be lighter as well. The plastron is hinge-less & reduced compared to the carapace.

Range: South-Central & South-Eastern U.S., with some branching & isolated populations in the southwest. There’s a disconnected group covering part of Montana. Strangely in the eastern states north of South Carolina (NC, VA, MD, DE, NJ) they are either absent or restricted to the western edges (& southern NC). NY & Vermont have some. Spiny softshells do penetrate slightly into extreme southeastern Canada.

Diet: They eat crayfish, insects, tadpoles, and occasionally small fish. In captivity spiny softshells tend to favor carnivorous food items like aquatic turtle pellets, grasshoppers, crickets, ghost shrimp, small crayfish, small fish, earth worms & blood worms. They may show little interest in aquatic plants or Romaine lettuce but will eat Spirulina algae wafers & commercial tortoise pellets. A youngster may be slow to warm to commercial pellets.

Softshells (all species) stand out amongst North American turtles in having fleshy lips. In large adults this feature may be a bit exaggerated. Be warned - right behind those lips are hard, sharp jaws that can put you in stitches.

Unlike in other turtles, in the spiny softshell turtle, the sex of the hatchlings is not determined by temperature variations; it is determined by genetics.

Spiny softshells are aggressive toward their own species, the larger tend to dominate the smaller in captive interactions (invariably involving a considerable amount of biting) & yet they’re usually not pugnacious with hard-shelled turtles. Softshells’ thin noses are vulnerable to fights over food, & the slim, soft shells are easily injured. Such injuries are infection-prone.

We recommend keeping Softshells alone or in spacious enclosures with strong filtration, no crowding & no aggressive tank mates. Watch closely when first mixing.


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