Geographical Range Southern Canada, eastern and central United States, northern Mexico
Habitat Rivers, streams, lakes, ponds
Scientific Name Apalone spinifera
Conservation Status Not listed by IUCN

Like all softshell turtles, spiny softshells have a carapace (upper shell) that is covered with leathery skin, not the horny plates topping most turtle shells. And like their name implies, spiny softshells have an added feature: pointy projections on the front rim of their carapace.

There are seven subspecies, or types, of spiny softshell turtle, and all have slight differences in appearance. But in general, all types have an olive or tan-colored carapace with dark blotches. Females can grow well over twice the size of males (21 versus eight inches maximum shell length).

Spiny softshells are highly aquatic, spending most of their time in water. They forage on the water bottom, either actively pursuing their prey or waiting around to ambush their unlucky victims -- frogs, tadpoles, fish, worms, aquatic insects, mollusks, and crayfish. Though they prefer animal foods, spiny softshells have also been known to eat leaves and other plant parts.

When they're not foraging, the turtles often may be found basking on rocks, logs, sandbars, or riverbanks. At night, they sleep buried in the water bottom or among the branches of sunken trees. In northern parts of their range, spiny softshells spend months at a time (the chilly ones) buried in the water bottom.

When the weather warms in the spring, the turtles get to the business of mating. Nesting season peaks in June and July. A female usually picks a site near the water to dig her nest, which she excavates four to 10 inches deep. She may lay as few as four eggs, or as many as 39, with 12-18 being most common. The eggs hatch from late August to October.

Did You Know?

A spiny softshell turtle can change the color of its carapace over time. This may help to camouflage the animal, matching the shell to the water bottom.