Softshell Turtle

Softshell Turtle
Scientific NameTrionychidae (Family that includes various species)
Common NameSoftshell Turtle
Care LevelAdvanced
Lifespan20-50 years depending on the species
Adult Size5-24 inches, species-dependent
DietOmnivorous (fish, insects, and aquatic plants)
OriginNorth America, Africa, Asia, and parts of Indonesia
TemperamentGenerally shy, can be aggressive when threatened

About the Softshell Turtle

Softshell turtles are a unique group within the turtle family due to their distinct, leathery shells and streamlined bodies. Unlike the hard, bony carapace found in most other turtles, the softshell’s carapace is flexible and feels rubbery to the touch. These turtles are adapted to a life mainly in the water, with their habitats ranging from slow-moving rivers to lakes and ponds across different continents. Their peculiar appearance and behavior make them an intriguing subject, both in the wild and in captivity.


Softshell turtles can vary significantly in size based on the species. The spiny softshell turtles, for instance, typically range from 5 to 11 inches in length for males, while females can reach up to 18 inches. The larger species, such as the Florida softshell turtle, can even exceed 24 inches in shell length, particularly mature females. These size variations mean potential keepers need to be well-informed and prepared to provide adequate space, especially for the larger species.

Unique Features

The most distinguishing feature of softshell turtles is, of course, their soft, flat, and pancake-like shell. This shell provides them with the agility and speed in water, enabling them to quickly chase down prey or evade potential threats. Their elongated, snorkel-like noses allow them to breathe while mostly submerged, peeking the tip of their snout above the water’s surface. Their feet are fully webbed, enhancing their swimming capabilities and giving them a frog-like appearance when moving on land.

Behavior and Temperament

Softshell turtles are primarily aquatic creatures. They’re often found buried in the sandy or muddy bottoms of their habitats, with only their eyes and snout visible. This behavior not only aids in hunting but also serves as a defensive strategy against potential predators. While they are generally shy and prefer to retreat from threats, they can be quite aggressive when cornered. Their sharp beaks can deliver a painful bite, so caution is advised when interacting with them.


Handling a softshell turtle is generally not recommended unless absolutely necessary, such as during tank cleanings or health checks. Their soft carapaces make them more vulnerable to injury, and they can become stressed when taken out of their aquatic environment. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, they can bite if they feel threatened. If handling is essential, it’s crucial to be gentle and provide support to the turtle’s entire body.

Diet & Nutrition

Softshell turtles are omnivorous and have a diverse diet in the wild. They consume a mixture of fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, and plants. In captivity, their diet can include a combination of live feeder fish, earthworms, crickets, and high-quality turtle pellets. It’s essential to ensure a balanced diet, and occasional supplementation with vitamins and minerals can be beneficial to their overall health.


Being ectothermic, softshell turtles rely on external temperatures to regulate their body heat. An ideal water temperature for them ranges between 72-78°F (22-26°C). Basking areas, where turtles can emerge from the water and absorb heat, should be between 85-90°F (29-32°C). UVB lighting is also vital for their health, helping them metabolize calcium and promoting proper shell growth.

Common Health Issues

Softshell turtles can suffer from several health issues in captivity, especially if their care requirements are neglected. Shell rot, a bacterial or fungal infection, can occur if turtles are kept in dirty water or don’t have access to proper basking areas. Respiratory infections, vitamin deficiencies, and metabolic bone disease are also concerns. Regular health check-ups and a clean environment can mitigate many of these risks.


Breeding softshell turtles requires a deep understanding of their specific needs and can be a challenging endeavor. Before breeding, females need access to a suitable nesting area with sandy or loamy soil where they can lay their eggs. The incubation temperature can determine the sex of the hatchlings. Maintaining a consistent, appropriate temperature during this period is crucial for the eggs’ successful development.

Mating Habits

Softshell turtles have specific mating rituals. The male often engages in a courtship display, which might involve touching the female’s shell or circling her. Once the female is receptive, the male mounts her for copulation. After mating, the female searches for a suitable spot to dig a nest and lay her eggs. Depending on the species, she may lay anywhere from a few to over a dozen eggs in a clutch. The eggs require careful monitoring to ensure they remain at the appropriate temperature and humidity levels.

Softshell Turtle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)