Chinese softshell turtle

Chinese softshell turtle

Chinese softshell turtle

2 languages
Pelodiscus sinensis

The Chinese softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis ) is a species of softshell turtle that is native to China (Inner Mongolia to Guangxi, including Hong Kong) and Taiwan, with records of escapees—some of which have established introduced populations—in a wide range of other Asian countries, as well as Spain, Brazil and Hawaii.

Show More

Populations native to Northeast China, Russia, Korea and Japan were formerly included in this species, but are now regarded as separate as the northern Chinese softshell turtle (P. maackii ). Furthermore, localized populations in Guangxi and Hunan (where the Chinese softshell turtle also is present), as well as Vietnam, are recognized as the lesser Chinese softshell turtle (P. parviformis ) and Hunan softshell turtle (P. axenaria ).

The Chinese softshell turtle is a vulnerable species, threatened by disease, habitat loss, and collection for food such as turtle soup. Chinese soft-shell turtles were the first turtle species to undergo a large-scale outbreak of bacterial softshell disease, resulting in slower growth and increased fatality. This lead not only to a decline in P. sinensis, but caused severe economic losses to the turtle culture industry. Additionally, millions are now farmed, especially in China, to support the food industry, and it is the world's most economically important turtle.

Show Less


Females of the Chinese softshell turtle can reach up to 33 cm (13 in) in carapace length, while the smaller males reach 27 cm (11 in), but however have longer tails than the females. Maturity is reached at a carapace length of 18–19 cm (7–7.5 in). It has webbed feet for swimming. They are called "softshell" because their carapace lacks horny scutes (scales). The carapace is leathery and pliable, particularly at the sides. The central part of the carapace has a layer of solid bone beneath it, as in other turtles, but this is absent at the outer edges. The light and flexible shell of these turtles allows them to move more easily in open water, or in muddy lake bottoms.

Show More

The carapace of these turtles is olive in color and may have dark blotches. The plastron is orange-red, and may also have large dark blotches. The limbs and head are olive dorsally with the forelimbs lighter and the hind-limbs orange-red ventrally. There are dark flecks on the head and dark lines that radiate from the eyes. The throat is mottled and there may be small, dark bars on the lips. A pair of dark blotches is found in front of the tail as well as a black band on the posterior side of each thigh.

Show Less



Introduced Countries
Biogeographical realms

The Chinese softshell turtle is native to Taiwan and China, where it is found in Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hebei, Henan, Hong Kong, Hubei, Hunan, Inner Mongolia (Nei Mongol), Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan and Zhejiang Provinces.

Show More

Populations native to Northeast China, Russia, Korea and Japan were formerly included in this species, but are now regarded as separate as the Amur softshell turtle (P. maackii ). Populations in Vietnam and Hainan Island are now recognized as the spotted softshell turtle (P. variegatus ). Furthermore, localized populations in Guangxi, Hunan, and Anhui (where the Chinese softshell turtle also is present) are recognized as the lesser Chinese softshell turtle (P. parviformis ), Hunan softshell turtle (P. axenaria ), and Huangshan softshell turtle (P. huangshanensis ).

It is difficult to determine its exact native range of the Chinese softshell turtle due to the long tradition of use as a food and herbal medicinal, and subsequent spread by migrating people. Outside their native China, escapees have been recorded in a wide range of countries and some of these have becomes established as introduced populations. Among the non-native locations in Asia are the Bonin Islands, Honshu, Kyushu, Ryukyu Archipelago and Shikoku in Japan; South Korea; Laos; Vietnam; Thailand; Singapore; Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Luzon, Mindanao, Mindoro and Panay in the Philippines; East and Peninsular Malaysia; Kalimantan, Sumatra and West Timor in Indonesia; East Timor; and Iran. Outside Asia, locations include Pará in Brazil; Spain; and Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Oahu (Hawaii) in the United States.

Chinese softshell turtles live in fresh and brackish water. In China these turtles are found in rivers, lakes, ponds, canals and creeks with slow currents, and in Hawaii they can be found in marshes and drainage ditches.

Show Less

Habits and Lifestyle

With their long snout and tubelike nostrils, these turtles can "snorkel" in shallow water. When resting, they lie at the bottom, buried in sand or mud, lifting their head to breathe or snatch at prey. Their basking habit is not well developed.

Show More

Chinese softshell turtles often submerge their heads in water. This is because they carry a gene which produces a protein that allows them to secrete urea from their mouths. This adaptation helps them survive in brackish water by making it possible for them to excrete urea without drinking too much salty water. Rather than eliminating urea by urinating through their cloaca as most turtles do, which involves significant water loss, they simply rinse their mouths in the water.

When provoked, certain populations of these turtles are capable of excreting a foul smelling fluid from pores on the anterior edge of their shells.

Show Less

Diet and Nutrition

These turtles are predominantly carnivorous and the remains of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and seeds of marsh plants have been found in their stomachs.

Mating Habits

These turtles reach sexual maturity sometime between 4 and 6 years of age. They mate at the surface or under water. A male will hold the female's carapace with its forelimbs and may bite at her head, neck, and limbs. Females may retain sperm for almost a year after copulation.

Show More

The females lay 8–30 eggs in a clutch and may lay from 2 to 5 clutches each year. The eggs are laid in a nest that is about 76–102 mm (3–4 in) across at the entrance. Eggs are spherical and average about 20 mm (0.79 in) in diameter. After an incubation period of about 60 days, which may be longer or shorter depending upon temperature, the eggs hatch. Average hatchling carapace length is about 25 mm (1 in) and width is also about 25 mm (1 in). Sex of the hatchlings is not determined by incubation temperature.

Show Less



Wild populations are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. In contrast, the mass farming and release of P. sinensis has been known to lead to hybridization several other unique Pelodiscus lineages, some of which may be their own distinct species, which in turn threatens their gene pool.


1. Chinese softshell turtle Wikipedia article -
2. Chinese softshell turtle on The IUCN Red List site -

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About