Spiny Softshells have a flat, smooth, leathery carapace (shell covering the back) that does not have scutes. The carapace (shell covering the belly) is gray-brown with dark spots or rings. They get their name from the tiny soft spines on the anterior margin of their carapace. The plastron is narrow and pale yellow or white. The females carapace can be 10-19 inches long, while the males carapace is only 5-10 inches long. Softshells have a very long neck and a thin tubular snout. Their skin is tan or olive with black markings. They have two light stripes on the side of their face.
Get more detailed identification and life history information by downloading the chart here.
You can learn more about this species and see some video footage by checking out this short clip or this longer clip about nesting turtles from our Rattlers, Peepers & Snappers DVD.
Softshells are entirely aquatic and are very fast in the water. They also bask often. In Vermont they are found only in the Northeast corner of Lake Champlain near the Lamoille and Missisquoi River deltas.
This species has a state natural heritage rank of S1 (very rare). The Spiny Softshell has been designated a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (high priority) in Vermont’s Wildlife Action Plan, and is threatened in Vermont. Please report all sightings of this species in Vermont. Take photos if possible. Even historic sighting information is useful.
- Apalone spinifera at Animal Diversity website
- Apalone spinifera at Canadian Herpetological Society website
- Apalone spinifera in the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Action Plan: Amphibian & Reptiles (9/25/2015 draft)
- Vermont Spiny Softshell Turtle from Vermont ANR/Fish and Wildlife site
- Vermont Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle Recovery Plan (2009) (PDF)
Species summary written by Ariel K. McK. Burgess.
Baby Softshell Turtles
Diving with Turtles
December 2012: Adam Kane, Director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, gives a commentary on Vermont Public Radio. Read the transcript, watch the video, or listen to the podcast at http://www.vpr.net/episode/54936/kane-diving-for-turtles/