spiny softshell turtle

(Apalone spinifera)

Conservation Status
spiny softshell turtle
Photo by Greg Watson
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern

     
  NatureServe

N5 - Secure

S5 - Secure

     
  Minnesota

not listed

     
           
           
 
Description
 
 

There are just three species of softshell turtle native to North America. Two occur in Minnesota. Of these, spiny softshell turtle is by far the most common. It occurs in the United States from Vermont to Florida west to Minnesota, Colorado, and California; in southern Ontario Canada; and in Mexico. It is found mostly in rivers but also in streams, lakes, and ponds. It prefers open areas with sandy or muddy bottoms and a small amount of vegetation. There are seven subspecies of spiny softshell turtle. Only one, northern (eastern) spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera), occurs in Minnesota.

Spiny softshell turtle is a large freshwater turtle. Size is usually given given as the length of the upper shell (carapace). Males are 5 to 9½ (12.7 to 24 cm) long. Females are much larger, 9½ to 19 (24 to 48 cm) long. The carapace is rounded, smooth, leathery, and flexible on the edges. There are no scales (scutes). There are many small spines but these are restricted to the front edge near the neck. This is the feature that gives the turtle its common name. The background color is light brown to olive green and there is a thin dark line near the margin. On the male and on juveniles of both sexes there are numerous dark circles. As the female ages the carapace darkens and the circles become blotches.

The lower shell (plastron) is whitish or yellow.

The head, neck, and limbs are are colored similar to the carapace. The chin is yellow. On the neck there are two yellow lines, an upper and a lower, bordered by black. The lines do not connect. The upper line continues through the eye. The nose is elongated, snout-like, and turned up at the end. Males have longer, thicker tails. On the female the tail barely extends beyond the carapace.

The feet are webbed and clawed.

-----------------------------

The description above refers to the northern (eastern) spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera).

 
     
 

Size

 
 

Male carapace length: 5 to 9½ (12.7 to 24 cm)

Female carapace length: 9½ to 19 (24 to 48 cm)

 
     
 

Similar Species

 
     
     
 
Habitat
 
 

Rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, in open areas with sandy or muddy bottoms and a small amount of vegetation.

 
     
 
Biology
 
 

Behavior

 
 

Spiny softshell turtle is active during the day, often basking on logs and riverbanks. It can both breath air and can take oxygen from the water, allowing it to spend a long time underwater. It is a fast swimmer, faster than the fish that it preys upon. When handled it can extend its long neck and deliver a painful bite. From October to April it is dormant and buried in the substrate.

 
     
 

Lifespan

 
 

A large female can live up to fifty years.

 
     
 

Life Cycle

 
 

The female lays up to 40 eggs in a nest once or twice a year. After laying the eggs she has no further involvement with the eggs or with the young.

 
     
 

Food

 
 

Aquatic invertebrates including crayfish, snails, aquatic insects, frogs, and fish.

 
     
 
Distribution
 
 

Distribution Map

 

Sources

29, 30, 76, 78.

 
  8/10/2021      
         
 

Occurrence

 
 

Common

 
         
 
Taxonomy
 
  Class Reptilia (reptiles)  
  Order Testudines (turtles and tortoises)  
  Suborder Cryptodira (hidden-necked turtles)  
  Superfamily Trionychia (softshell turtles)  
 

Family

Trionychidae (softshell and flapshell turtles)  
 

Subfamily

Trionychinae (softshell turtles)  
 

Genus

Apalone (American softshell turtles)  
       
 

Subordinate Taxa

 
 

black spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera atra)

Guadalupe spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera guadalupensis)

Gulf Coast  spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera aspera)

northern (eastern) spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera)

palid spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera pallida)

Texas spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera emoryi)

western spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera hartwegi)

 
       
 

Synonyms

 
 

Amyda ferox spinifera

Trionyx ferox spinifera

Trionyx spiniferus

 
       
 

Common Names

 
 

spiny softshell turtle

 
       

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glossary

Carapace

The hard, upper (dorsal), shell-like covering (exoskeleton) of the body or at least the thorax of many arthropods and of turtles and tortoises.

 

Plastron

The hard, lower (ventral), shell-like covering (exoskeleton) of the body of turtles and tortoises.

 
 
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Greg Watson

 
  I was riding my bike around Lake Winona in Winona, MN this morning and came across this Spiny Softshell Turtle laying eggs right by the path.   spiny softshell turtle  
           
    spiny softshell turtle   spiny softshell turtle  
           
    spiny softshell turtle   spiny softshell turtle  
           
 
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos
 
 

 

 
           
           

 

Camera

     
 
 
 
 
     
     
     

 

slideshow

       
 
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Other Videos
 
  Possibly the cutest turtle ever...the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera)
Turtley Wild
 
   
 
About

Jul 28, 2021

Today we come across a juvenile spiny softshell turtle while looking for stripe neck musk turtles. This is our first softshell of the season so we were very excited. Softshell turtles are just so unique looking, it's hard not to get excited when you find one!

Music: Sunny
Musician: LiQWYD
URL: http://www.soundcloud.com/liqwyd

 
  The Spiny Softshell Turtle: Ontario Wildlife Video Series
Ryan M. Bolton
 
   
 
About

Sep 30, 2013

Donation Page: http://www.artofconservation.ca/RMBol...

Educational video of the Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera) and its conservation in Ontario, Canada.

Filmed, edited, and narrated by Ryan M. Bolton, MSc
The Art of Conservation

© Ryan M. Bolton
All imagery available for purchase with all proceeds donated to conservation endeavours around the world. Please contact at www.artofconservation.ca/RMBolton

Donated Music:
No Offense and Autumn Day by Kevin MacLeod
http://incompetech.com/
Used with a creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/legalcode

 
  Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera)
Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network
 
   
 
About

Mar 13, 2013

 
  Dylan Gentry: Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle! (Apalone Spinifera Spinifera)
Dylan Gentry Official
 
   
 
About

May 8, 2015

via YouTube Capture

 
       

 

Camcorder

 
 
Visitor Sightings
 
           
 

Report a sighting of this reptile.

 
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  Greg Watson
6/23/2021

Location: Lake Winona in Winona, MN

I was riding my bike around Lake Winona in Winona, MN this morning and came across this Spiny Softshell Turtle laying eggs right by the path.

spiny softshell turtle

 
           
           
 
MinnesotaSeasons.com Sightings
 
 

 

 

 

 

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Created: 8/10/2021

Last Updated:

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