Softshell Turtle Facts

Moumita Dutta
Jan 19, 2023 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Deeti Gupta
Softshell Turtle Facts

Softshell turtles are one of the most unique turtles around the world. They belong to the family Trionychidae, which indicates their feature of a three-clawed foot.

They are aquatic animals but they like basking in the sun. Females lay eggs in the sand by the water. Softshell turtles are well-recognized for some of their unusual adaptations, the most significant one being their ability to breathe inside water, like fish.

They are known as "softshell" turtles because they lack the bony scutes on their carapace, unlike other turtles. Their shell is more leathery than bony. From this characteristic soft shell they got their name, which is pretty obvious. However, the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera) does have some bony projections protruding from its carapace, as the name suggests.

The habitats of these turtles with soft shells include freshwater lakes and rivers. Their food includes mainly fish, small amphibians, and other aquatic animals that can fit their mouth. There are a variety of softshell turtles. Hence, their conservation status also varies. The species that are found in North America are spiny softshells, smooth softshells, and Florida softshell turtles.

Softshell turtles are farmed in some places for their use as a famous delicacy. These turtles do well in captivity if petted from a young age. Otherwise, they are quite big in size and wild in nature to be controlled. Their bite is very dangerous.

If you are fascinated by softshell turtles, you should read on. We have collected the facts about the habitat and lifestyle of eastern spiny softshell turtle facts and Yangtze giant softshell turtle facts. If you want to know more about them, you can check out our articles on Florida softshell turtle facts and map turtle.

Softshell Turtle Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a softshell turtle?

As apparent from their name, the softshell turtle is a turtle belonging to the family Trionychidae.

What class of animal does a softshell turtle belong to?

Softshell turtle is a Reptilia, like all other turtles.

How many softshell turtles are there in the world?

There are 14 genera and 30 species that are considered softshell turtles. This makes it difficult to calculate the total number of these turtles in the world.

Where does a softshell turtle live?

Softshell turtles are aquatic reptiles. They live in freshwater and brackish areas and eat fish.

What is a softshell turtle's habitat?

Habitat of softshell turtles includes freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers.

Who do softshell turtles live with?

Softshell turtles spend most of their time on their own.

How long does a Softshell Turtle live?

A softshell turtle can live up to 20-50 years in the wild.

How do they reproduce?

Softshells attain sexual maturity at around 8-10 years of age. Their breeding season is mid to late spring. They mate in deep water.

Adult males show interest by nudging the head of the females. If the female approves, the male swims above her. In the case of most other turtle species, the male clasps the female with his claws during mating, but softshells do not do that.

The female digs a flask-shaped cavity within an hour in the sunny sandbar, as close to the water as possible. Eggs may be 2-100 in number. Softshells may breed more than once in a season.

What is their conservation status?

As there are many species of softshell turtles, the conservation statuses are also different. There are five species that are Critically Endangered, five species Endangered, six species Vulnerable, and most other species have a conservation status of Least Concern.

Some species, however, such as the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, are Critically Endangered, mainly due to loss of habitat and hunting.

Softshell Turtle Fun Facts

What do softshell turtles look like?

Softshell turtle facts are enjoyable with family and friends.

Softshell turtles are known because of their flat shells which lack the scales that most common turtles have. The edges have spine-like structures.

Some of these spines can be present on the back of their carapace, while for some, they can present all over the carapace. They have a long nose and it tends to taper. The gulf spiny soft-shell turtles tend to have yellow stripes on the sides of their head.

These stripes tend to connect at one point. On the other hand, eastern spiny soft-shell turtles have similar stripes, but unlike the other gulf spiny soft-shell turtle, they do not connect.

The plastron of the turtle, which is the front shell part of the softshell, has a pale and yellowish tone. They use their feet and claws for swimming. When it comes to sexual dimorphism, the males have yellowish or olive color tones with a rough carapace.

The males are generally smaller than the females. Males, however, tend to have a thicker and longer tail.

How cute are they?

Turtles are in general very cute. Softshells can be a little exceptional. While they have long necks and may look like turtles, their eyes have a reptilian touch to them. Plus, their mouths generally look a lot different from normal turtles so, you may find them very cute.  

How do they communicate?

Softshell turtles are solitary in nature. When disturbed, they retreat to the water and bury themselves in the mud or sand underneath, except for their head. During courtship in mating season, they communicate by touch.

How big is a softshell turtle?

Softshells have a vast range of sizes due to their diversity. Their length may vary a lot, ranging anywhere between 7-3-220 lb (6-1oo kg).

How fast can a softshell turtle move?

Softshell turtles are basically stationary. Most of the time they are seen basking in the sun, waiting for the prey. But in a state of excitement, they can move at a speed comparable to the comfortable walking speed of humans.

How much does a softshell turtle weigh?

Again, the weight of softshell turtles varies from species to species. This is why the range of weight in their case is quite vast, which is 5.9-96 lb (2.68-43.6 kg).

What are their male and female names of the species?

There are no specific turtle male and female names for the turtle species.

What would you call a baby Softshell Turtle?

A turtle's baby is known as a hatchling.

What do they eat?

Softshell turtles can eat any aquatic creature that fits their mouth. They usually prey on fish, aquatic crustaceans, snails, other reptiles, and amphibians.

They are good ambush predators, i.e. they stand and wait for their prey rather than moving around and chasing it. Their body color allows them to easily blend in with the mud or sand, which acts as an added advantage for these predators.

Are they poisonous?

Bites of softshell turtles are dangerous because of their very strong jaw and long neck. Even small softshells can bite off human fingers, while big ones can even tear off a hand. But no evidence of poison has been detected in their bite.

Would they make a good pet?

Softshell turtles do well in captivity. However, the aquarium where they are to be kept should be devoid of any spiny or sharp object that can harm their soft, leathery shell.

It is always better to pet a young one because juveniles are easily adapted to captivity, and wild behavior can be checked from the beginning. While they can be kept as pets, they require a lot of complex maintenance and care. Hence, they can be a bit costly, at $50-$150 USD.

Did you know...

These turtle species are quite active and capable of protecting themselves. Their bite can be deadly owing to their firm jaw and long neck. The sharp claws of softshell turtles are also to be avoided.

Softshell turtles can see in all directions because of their long and flexible neck.

These animals are able to breathe underwater through the pharyngeal lining, cloacal lining, and skin. They gulp water through their mouth and through the cloaca and spit back the urea. This is apparently their key to breathing in the water.

Softshell turtles hibernate for half of the year in the mud. During that time of inactivity, they respire through the skin, like many other amphibians and reptiles.

Different types of softshell turtle

There are 14 genera and 30 species of softshell turtles. The North American softshell turtle species include spiny softshell turtle (A. spinifera), smooth softshell turtle (A. mutica) and Florida softshell turtle (A. ferox).

The most common species of this family in the world is the Chinese softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis). Then there are Yangtze giant softshell turtles (Rafetus swinhoei), Indian softshell turtles (Nilssonia gangetica), Burmese softshell turtles (Nilssonia formosa) and many more. Most of the softshell species are abundant in Asia.

How to care for softshell turtles

Baby softshells should be scooped up with your palm, using the other hand to grasp the sides of their shell between the two pairs of legs. Larger turtles can be held like a sandwich, with one hand being in the belly of the creature and the other on top of the carapace.

Captivity makes them tolerant of such treatment. However, it is always suggested to be careful with their claws and their jaw.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other reptiles including hawksbill sea turtle, or giant tortoise.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Softshell Turtle coloring page.

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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

Moumita Dutta picture

Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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Fact-checked by Deeti Gupta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Deeti Gupta picture

Deeti GuptaBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

A detail-oriented fact-checker with a research-oriented approach. Devika has a passion for creative writing, she has been published on multiple digital publishing platforms and editorials before joining the Kidadl team. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from St.Xavier's College, Deeti has won several accolades and writing competitions throughout her academic career.

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