The Spiny softshell turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtle species in North America. The common name, spiny softshell, refers to the spiny, cone-like projections on the leading edge of the turtle's carapace, which are not scutes (scales). These spines are more commonly found in males. Spiny softshell turtles have webbed feet, and their feet have three claws. Another distinguishing feature of softshell turtles is the presence of a fleshy, elongated nose. The carapace (the upper part of the shell) ranges from brown or yellow-brown to olive in color, while the plastron (lower part of the shell) is lighter, usually white or yellow. Hatchlings usually have dark spots on the carapace, but as females age, they frequently become darker in color, or their carapace becomes splotched. Males tend to maintain the same coloration pattern from birth. Coloration also varies between each subspecies, and the exact coloration can also depend on an individual turtle's environment. Spiny softshell turtles are cryptically colored, meaning that their coloration helps them blend in with their surrounding environment. Spiny softshells also have pale lines bordered by black lines running from their head down the side of their neck.
Diurnal animals are active during the daytime, with a period of sleeping or other inactivity at night. The timing of activity by an animal depends ...
A carnivore meaning 'meat eater' is an organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of a...
An insectivore is a carnivorous plant or animal that eats insects. An alternative term is entomophage, which also refers to the human practice of e...
A piscivore is a carnivorous animal that eats primarily fish. Piscivorous is equivalent to the Greek-derived word ichthyophagous. Fish were the die...
An aquatic animal is an animal, either vertebrate or invertebrate, which lives in water for most or all of its life. It may breathe air or extract ...
Ambush predators are carnivorous animals that capture or trap prey by stealth, luring, or by (typically instinctive) strategies utilizing an elemen...
Precocial species are those in which the young are relatively mature and mobile from the moment of birth or hatching. Precocial species are normall...
A burrow is a hole or tunnel excavated into the ground by an animal to create a space suitable for habitation, temporary refuge, or as a byproduct ...
Natatorial animals are those adapted for swimming. Some fish use their pectoral fins as the primary means of locomotion, sometimes termed labriform...
Terrestrial animals are animals that live predominantly or entirely on land (e.g., cats, ants, snails), as compared with aquatic animals, which liv...
Oviparous animals are female animals that lay their eggs, with little or no other embryonic development within the mother. This is the reproductive...
Polygynandry is a mating system in which both males and females have multiple mating partners during a breeding season.
Partial migration is when within a migratory species or even within a single population, some individuals migrate while others do not.
Hibernation is a state of minimal activity and metabolic depression undergone by some animal species. Hibernation is a seasonal heterothermy charac...
NoNot a migrant
Animals that do not make seasonal movements and stay in their native home ranges all year round are called not migrants or residents.
Spiny softshell turtles have a wide range, extending throughout much of the United States, as well as north into the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and south into the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Chihuahua. These turtles live in freshwater habitats including ponds, lakes, rivers, tributaries, and streams. They inhabit shallow water (less than 1 meter deep) but can also be found as far as 10 meters deep. They can be found in areas with varying levels of vegetation, and generally occur in more slowly-moving waters. Spiny softshells prefer waters with sandy bottoms as well as clean, sandy banks. Sandy environments are important for nesting sites, proper juvenile growth and development, and camouflage.
Spiny softshell turtles are aquatic and spend most of their life in the water. They lead a solitary life and are active during the day. Spiny softshells spend their days foraging or basking in the sun on river banks or logs. If disturbed, they will quickly retreat to the water or will burrow themselves in the sand or mud with only their heads visible. When foraging for food, they can either actively hunt prey or bury themselves in the sand and wait to ambush prey. Spiny softshells migrate between warm and cold seasons. In each season, turtles generally stay in a single zone, and they move more within their zone during warm months. During cold months, from October to April, they spend underwater burrowed in sand or mud in a state of dormancy (hibernation). Due to their skin Spiny softshells are able to breathe underwater and this ability helps them to survive during their hibernation time.
Spiny softshell turtles are predominately carnivores (insectivores, piscivores) and feed on a variety of food items. They will consume insects, crickets, worms, crayfish, fish, shrimps, and mussels. They may also eat algal stocks and other plant materials.
Spiny softshell turtles have a polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system which means that both males and females have multiple partners in a single breeding season. They mate in mid-to-late spring in deep water. The male will nudge the female's head while swimming, and if she chooses to mate, the male will swim above the female without clasping her with his claws (unlike other turtles). A few months later, the female lays her eggs along a sunny sandbar or gravel bank in a flask-shaped cavity she has dug close to the water. The turtle nests more than once during a single season. She can lay between 9 and 38 round, calcareous-shelled eggs. The eggs are laid around July and September, and they hatch in the spring. Unlike in other turtles, in the Spiny softshell turtle, the gender of the hatchlings is not determined by temperature variations; it is determined by genetics. Hatchlings don't receive parental care and become reproductively mature when they are between 8 and 10 years old.
The main threats to Spiny softshell turtles include pollution, water diversion, fishermen, habitat fragmentation and shoreline development which disturb nesting sites. The nesting sites are also at risk of predation from animals such as coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. Spiny softshells also suffer from hunting for food and hatchlings are collected as pets.
According to IUCN, the Spiny softshell turtle is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Spiny softshells are important predators in their aquatic ecosystems. Due to feeding upon various amphibians, insects, and fish. they control the numbers of these species’ populations throughout their range.