Florida Softshelled Turtle
Genus/species: Apalone ferox
The Florida softshell is the largest of the New World softshell
turtles (which are all believed to have originated in
the Old World) and has the most Old World characteristics
such as: relatively large size, tolerance for brackish
water, and longitudinally wrinkled carapace. The young
Florida softshell is olive-yellowish in color with large
gray spots, yellow and orange markings on the head, and
a yellowish border around the carapace. These juvenile
markings are mostly lost with age. Adults are brown-gray
sometimes showing traces of the juvenile markings. The
plastron of the juveniles is a slate-gray.
These turtles look like big leathery pancakes. The adults
are brownish-green or tan with blotches on their skin. Their
shells are covered with skin, and are soft around the edges.
Their noses are long and round. When they swim, they stay
underwater and stick their nose up to breathe, like a snorkel.
Their feet are webbed and their necks are quite long. The
females are much bigger than the males. Females may reach
up to 24 inches (61 cm) long and males usually grow
to only 12 inches (30 cm).
Softshell turtles can be very aggressive, and they sometimes
bite each other and turtles of other species spontaneously
or when feeding. Turtles with reduced shells or soft shells
tend to be more aggressive than their more protected relatives.
Distribution and Habitat:
Florida softshell turtles are found on the coastal plains
south of an imaginary line connecting Mobile Bay, Alabama,
and Charleston, South Carolina, including all of Florida
except the Keys.
Their preferred habitat is slow-moving bodies of fresh water
with mud or sand bottoms. They do, however, occasionally enter
brackish water near mouths of streams. They spend much of
their time buried in the soft bottom with only their head
Diet in the Wild:
Softshell turtles are primarily carnivorous, feeding on
aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, waterfow,l
and amphibians. They hunt and chase down prey as well
as scavenge. They may also bury themselves in the sand
with only the head exposed and ambush unsuspecting prey
when it comes within reach.
They eat worms, mice, fish, and a gel diet.
Nesting occurs from early March to July. Nests are cavities
dug in sand and earthen banks. Clutches may consist of 17
to 22 eggs, which are oval and about one inch (2.54 cm) in
diameter. Hatchlings are about 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) long.
Florida softshells may live more than 30 years in captivity.
They are neither threatened nor endangered, although they
are frequently used for soup.
Softshell turtles are capable of pharyngeal breathing.
This means they can bypass lung breathing by taking in
oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide through a membrane
that lines the throat, creating a direct gas exchange
within the water. There is also some limited oxygen exchange
through the skin. Other reptiles and amphibians are capable
of similar gas exchanges. Pharyngeal breathing is very
important as a hibernation strategy.