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Spiny Softshell Turtle

spiny softshell turtle(Apalone Spinifera)

What is the spiny softshell's shell made of?
Unlike most turtles, who have hard, bony shells, the spiny softshell has a leathery shell lacking bony plates, and some say this turtle resembles a pancake with legs.

How can one tell apart a spiny softshell turtle male from a female?
The males of this species are significantly smaller than the females, with a carapice (upper shell) length of only 5-9 inches, whereas the females can be 7-18 inches. Males also have longer, thicker tails and a rough, sandpapery dorsal surface.

Where could I find a spiny softshell turtle?
Spiny softshells primarly live in rivers, but they have been seen in large lakes. They typically prefer river bottoms with sand/mud bottoms with lots of gravel because they spend much of their time hiding in the gravel, stalking prey or staying out of sight of other predators. You also might find a spiny softshell on a sandbar, basking in the sun or laying eggs.

How do spiny softshell turtles respond to being handled by humans?
First of all, as one of the fastest swimming turtles around, it is quite difficult to catch one. Furthermore, picking up a wild spiny softshell is not recommended—they have long, flexible necks and are able to reach around and bite hard if provoked. They also scratch with their claws. If you do need to catch one for whatever reason, hold it at the base of the hind legs and face the head away from your body.

How do spiny softshell turtles breathe?
These versatile turtles can breathe two different ways—they can breathe through their mouth and often use their nose and long neck as a "snorkel," but additionally they can absorb dissolved oxygen through their skin and can remain submerged in room temperature water for up to 5 hours.

What do spiny softshell turtles eat?
Spiny softshell turtles are mainly carnivorous, and they eat any aquatic life small enough to capture. They can eat crayfish, insects, fish, and even aquatic plants. They either search for food actively or bury themselves in the sand, mud, or gravel, waiting for unsuspecting prey to swim by.

How long can spiny softshell turtles live?
They have lived to be more than 25 years old in captivity. Data on wild spiny softshell turtles is uncertain, but one female was reported to be 53 years old (Breckenridge, 1955, in Oldfield and Moriarty).

Is this the only softshell turtle in Minnesota?
No, there is also a smooth softshell turtle. The major difference is that the spiny softshell has ridges on the front edge of the carapace (upper shell), whereas the smooth softshell lacks these ridges.

The information above is common scientific knowledge. For a list of specific resources, visit the Animal FAQ Resources page.

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