Spiny Softshell Turtle


Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera

spiny softshell turtle

Description: The spiny softshell turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtle species in North America. They are distingishable from other turtle species by their carapace, or shell. Unlike most other turtles, their shell is soft, flat and rubbery. The edges of the carapace are pliable with small spines (more on males than females). Their nose is long and pig-like, and their feet are fully webbed. Spiny softshell turtles spend most of their lives in water.

Size: An adult female's carapace can be anywhere between 7 to 19 inches in length; while the male's is much smaller at 5-10 inches in length.

Diet: The spiny softshell turtle will eat almost anything in the water that will fit into its mouth, which may include aquatic insects, crayfish, and the occasional fish. They bury themselves under a layer of mud at the bottom of a lake, with only their head sticking out, and catch prey as it passes by.

Typical Lifespan: They can live up to 50 years in the wild.

Habitat: Rivers, ponds, streams and lakes with relatively little vegetation and a sandy or muddy bottom.

Range: Spread throughout most of the United States from central-eastern U.S. to Wisconsin & Minnesota, and as far south as Mexico.

Life History and Reproduction: Males nudge a female's head while swimming in an attempt to court her. With approval from the female, the male will swim above her, but will not clasp her with his claws like other turtle species. Spiny softshell turtles typically breed in May. Females lay anywhere from 4 to 38 eggs on sandbars or in loose soil. The eggs hatch sometime in August or Septemeber.

Fun Fact: The spiny softshell turtle, in parts of its range, hibernates in the mud for about half of the year.

Conservation Status: Although they remain unprotected in the United States, spiny softshell turtles still face some threats including habitat destruction and chemical pollution.

Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species 
Michigan Department of Natural Resources 


Get Our E-Newsletter 
Help Wildlife. Symbolically adopt a sea turtle today!
At Risk: Freshwater Fish
Freshwater Fish
Subscribe to Ranger Rick Magazines today!