Description: Apalone spinifera are easily distinguished
from other turtles because of their different looking carapace.
Unlike most turtles in Georgia, the spiny softshell turtle has
a flat, leathery shell with very flexible edges, "resembling
a pancake". This carapace can get up to 18" long
in females and only 9" long in males being an olive, brown
to grayish color with dark spots in males and younger turtles.
In adult males, the shell has a lot of spines on the carapace,
but in females it only has a few spines. Apalone spinifera
has a snorkel-like nose with 2 yellowish lines on the sides
of its head. Their feet have more webbing than most of the other
turtles in Georgia. This may be because they spend most of their
life in water compared to other turtles. Spiny Softshells resemble
Florida Softshells and are best distinguished by range (Florida
Softshells are only found in the Coastal Plain) and habitat (Spiny
Softshells prefer rivers and streams while Florida Softshells
are often found in ponds and wetlands).
Range and Habitat: The spiny softshell turtle occurs from
South Carolina, west to Texas and north up the Missouri River
system to Montana and the Dakotas, then east to western New York.
It is found throughout the state South Carolina and in Georgia
except in the mountains and south-central portions of the Coastal
Plain. Apalone spinifera are most common in rivers and
streams with muddy or sandy bottoms, but are also found in large
lakes and reservoirs.
Habits: Softshells often bury themselves in the mud or
sand where they sleep or wait for food to carelessly swim by.
They can sometimes be observed basking on sandbars or logs protruding
from the water. These turtles are mainly carnivorous, eating almost
anything living in the water that will fit into its mouth. This
includes, fish, insects, and crayfish. They bury themselves in
the sand or mud with only their head sticking out and grab prey
as they swim by. Spiny softshell turtles are most active April
through October. They usually breed in May and lay 4 to 30 eggs
on sunny sandbars or in loose soil.
Conservation status: Apalone spinifera is currently common
and is not protected by State or Federal government.
Weisrock, D. W., and F. J. Janzen. 2000. Comparative molecular
phylogeography of North American softshell turtles (Apalone):
implications for regional and wide-scale historical evolutionary
forces. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 14:152-164.
Account Author: Anna Tarter, University of Georgia - revised
by J.D. Willson
Male spiny softshell turtles usually retain the sharply defined dark spots or circles on the carapace that are characteristic of juveniles whereas females develop a more mottled, camouflage pattern.