Lakeside Nature Center

Critter Corner - Soft-Shelled Turtle
(Apalone spinifera)


The shell of a soft-shelled turtle is actually thickened skin.  The shell can easily be injured by scrapes or bites.  The plastron, the bottom shell of the turtle, is made of cartilage.  Cartilage is the soft, flexible material that forms your outer ears and the tip of your nose.


A soft-shelled turtle has an extremely long neck and pig-like nose, called a proboscis, that is excellent for snorkeling or sniffing for food between the cracks and crevices of rocks.  They will eat almost anything in the water, including insects, snails, fish, frogs, salamanders and even plants.


Soft-shells mate in late spring in deep water.  Females dig a cavity in a gravel bank as close to water as possible.  The 10 to 40 round, hard-shelled eggs hatch in the fall and the baby turtles are on their own.  At about 10 years of age, females can lay eggs.  A female can live about 50 years.


Soft-shell turtles are found in streams, lakes, ponds and rivers.  Three types of soft-shells live in the United States.  The smooth soft-shell is found in our area.  There turtles spend most of their time buried in mud at the bottom of the water.  Though they do breath air through their nose, they also take in oxygen from the water through the thin skin along their throats and in the rectum.  This ability allows them to stay under water for long periods.


Soft-shell turtles are quite aggressive and can deliver a painful bite when threatened.  They are extremely fast on land and in water, which makes for quite a quick get-a-way from predators.


The long neck and strange nose of the soft-shelled turtle are used together to make a snorkel.  The turtle sits buried with just his head out in the water to watch for a nearby meal.  It occasionally sticks its snorkel above water for a quick breath.

 To learn more about soft-shelled turtles

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(Photo credits:  Both pictures are from Missouri Department of Conservation) 

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