SPINY SOFT SHELL TURTLE (Apalone spinifera), (LESUEUR, 1827)

4 Subspecies of spiny soft-shelled turtle inhabit Texas

=Spiny soft-shelled turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera)

=Pallid spiny soft-shelled turtle (Apalone spinifera pallida)

=Guadalupe spiny soft-shelled turtle (Apalone spinifera guadalupensis)

=Texas spiny soft-shelled turtle (Apalone spinifera emoryi)

IDENTIFICATION:   The carapace is flattened in overall appearance with a ridge-like series of tubercles on the anterior edge. Juveniles bear the strongest pattern consisting of dark spots and a light colored border on the edge of the carapace.  While the spotting can be found among males they are reduced to blotches in mature females.  Because of the reduction of bony elements in the carapace the edges of the carapace are the softest and most pliable portions of the shell.  This is most evident in fully grown individuals. The neck is long, head slender and nose long and snorkel-like with a fleshy ridge present inside each nostril.  The feet are fully webbed and the plastron is also fleshy.

BEHAVIOR AND ECOLOGY:  Soft-shelled turtles are powerful swimmers and almost entirely aquatic, fond of basking and rarely venturing far from aquatic margins.  However, females seeking suitable nesting locations sometimes wander considerable distances from water in search of ideal nesting locations.  Within their geographic distribution spiny soft shell turtles can be found in streams, rivers, oxbows, lakes , lagoons, water filled ditches and coastal areas.  Softshell turtles are carnivorous and will hunt down or use ambush tactics to secure prey which includes but is not limited to: insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, fishes and other small vertebrates.  Aquatic vegetation has been found in the stomachs of museum specimens.  However, the vegetation contained snails and were likely ingested secondarilly to the turtle's pursuit of the snails.  When not basking out of the water or swimming about, soft shelled turtles can be found below the surface on the bottom concealed beneath a layer of sand or other substratum.  Often with only the eyes or part of the head exposed.

Females are fecund producing more than one clutch per year containing as many as 32 spherical hard-shelled eggs per clutch.  Softshell turtles are capable of defending themselves by clawing, and scratching while trying to make an escape.  They can also make short yet remarkably quick bursts of speed on land.  If carelessly handled, soft-shelled turtles can also deliver a painful bite with their sharp cusp.
Adult female. Balmorhea state park. July 2017
Pallid spiny soft-shelled turtle (Apalone spinifera pallida), (WEBB 1962)
Texas spiny soft-shelled turtle (Apalone spinifera emoryi), (AGASSIZ 1857)
Guadalupe spiny soft-shelled turtle (Apalone spinifera guadalupensis),  (WEBB 1962)
Spiny soft-shelled turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera) (LeSueur, 1827) * Previously considered the Western spiny soft-shell (A. spinifera hartwegi) until genetic and morphological review indicated that there was very little divergence between the two (McGaugh et al. 2008).