Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera spinifera
Classification: Reptilia, Order Testudines, Family Trionychidae
- Species of Greatest Conservation Need-Tier 4a on the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan
Size: Up to 9.75 inches in length
Habitat: This highly aquatic turtle is found only in the Tennessee River drainage in Scott, Washington, Wise, Russell, and Smyth counties, and in the Ohio drainage in Buchanan and Dickenson counties. There are introduced populations of nonnative softshells at Lake Whitehurst in Norfolk and in the Potomac River.
Distribution: This turtle is found only in the upper Tennessee drainage in southwestern Virginia and the Ohio drainage in Dickenson and Buchanan counties. An introduced population of this turtle occurs in Lake Whitehurst, City of Norfolk and Virginia Beach. This species inhabits marshy creeks, large swift-flowing rivers, bayous, oxbows, lakes and impoundments that have soft bottoms, aquatic vegetation, sand bars, and mud flats. They will usually bask on logs or rocks overhanging or surrounded by water.
This is a large freshwater turtle with a maximum carapace length of about 18 inches. The low, flattened carapace of this soft-shelled turtle is a wide oval and nearly as broad as long. The edge of the carapace is rimmed with small sharp projections. The carapace is olive to grayish in ground color with numerous dark, often ocellated spots that increase in size toward the center of the shell, and with a single dark line concentric with the margin and bordering a wider light outer band. The legs and head are olive with light brown to yellow streaks. The snout has large nostrils and the jaws have sharp cutting edges; the feet are heavily webbed. The front feet have 3 claws and the back have 4. The skin is gray to olive with small black spots. Mating occurs in April and May, with nesting occurring in June and July. The nest is built on a sunny bank in full sunlight near water. The female lays 4 to 32 eggs and may have two clutches per year. Hatchlings emerge from the nest between August and October. The incubation period is from 82 to 84 days.
Did you know?
Softshells have adapted to brumation by using pharyngeal breathing. They can absorb oxygen across the skin and the lining of their throat, or pharynx.
Last updated: November 20, 2023
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