Description: Like other Softshell Turtles, the Spiny Softshell Turtle has a flat shell that lacks keratinous scutes and is covered in skin giving it a soft appearance and leathery feel. The carapace (top of the shell) is brown or olive in color and has spines along the edges and can reach up to 18 inches. Males tend to be smaller and have more spines on their shells than females. The plastron (underside of the shell) is pale yellow or white in coloration. The head is equipped with pointed tubular nostrils and two pale lines extending from the front of the head, through the eyes, and down to the neck. Young typically have more patterning than adults.
Natural History: With their webbed feet, long neck, snorkel-like nostrils, and flat body, these turtles are well equipped for a very aquatic life-style. They spend much of their time buried just beneath silty or sandy substrate in rivers, streams and sometimes lakes. Occasionally they may be seen basking on the banks, but rarely venture much further except during breeding season. Late spring mating occurs and females will leave the water ways to lay nests in sandbars or banks with loose soil. This turtle consumes a wide variety of prey including fish, crayfish, and other aquatic invertebrates.
Similar Species: The Florida Softshell Turtle (Apolone ferox) can attain a larger size, usually darker and less patterned, and has less spines along the edges of the shell. Habitat also helps distinguish the two species. The Florida Softshell prefers ponds and marshes, while the Spiny Softshell prefers rivers and streams.
Distribution: This turtle is found throughout the Mississippi River basin all the way north to Michigan. They have a patchy distribution in the Northeastern United States, but are found from Southern North Carolina to the Panhandle of Florida.
Contributed by Jake Zadik (02/20/2020)
Click here to view South Carolina county records of this species on Herpmapper.org