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      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)

Females grow to 1.6 times the size of males with a carapace length up to 21 inches ( 54 cm). Adult males have a carapace length of 5-9 inches (12.7-23 cm). The carapace is round and covered in a leathery skin with a series of blunt or conical tubercles at the anterior edge.  A series of tubercles are sometimes present on the posterior half of the carapace which in younger adult specimens has a rough texture due to numerous tiny spines. Males retain a more disk shaped carapace while the carapace of mature females is more oval. The outer edges of the carapace are soft especially the posterior portion above the tail. The carapace is olive to orange-brown with a series of spots. As females mature the spots fade and the carapace is either plain or blotched.  A thin yellow band borders the outermost edge of the shell. The border is rimmed along the inner edge by a thin dark line. The plastron is white to gray or bluish gray. The ventral coloration of the limbs matches that of the plastron. The color of the top of the head, neck, limbs and tail closely matches the base coloration of the carapace. Many females have bluish chins (this is most notable among the pallid spiny soft-shell).  A creamy yellow line thinly bordered above and below by a darker base coloration is present behind the yellow-orange eye (post orbital stripe) extending along the back of the head to the long neck. In younger specimens this line extends in front of each eye and comes into contact near the base of the nostrils. The head is elongated with yellow to olive colored lips covering a sharp cusp and tubular nostrils that internally are partially divided. The feet are fully webbed and the webbing on the forefeet reaches just beyond the elbow while webbing on the rear feet reaches the shank. The webbing between the toes is spotted with a pattern that matches the skin on the limbs.The limbs are flecked in dark spots.

Soft-shelled turtles are powerful swimmers and almost entirely aquatic, fond of basking and rarely venturing far from aquatic margins.  However, nesting females 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  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.


Spiny softshell turtles have tiny spines on the carapace that feels like sandpaper. However, these spines are not present in adult females.
Adult female. Balmorhea state park. July 2017
Pallid spiny soft-shell turtle (Apalone spinifera pallida), (WEBB 1962)
Texas spiny soft-shell turtle (Apalone spinifera emoryi), (AGASSIZ 1857)
Guadalupe spiny soft-shell turtle (Apalone spinifera guadalupensis),  (WEBB 1962)
​Guadalupe softshell turtles are endemic to Texas and occur in the Colorado, Guadalupe, Lavaca, Nueces and San Antonio River systems. Among young specimens and males, white-yellow tubercles ringed with black are present on the carapace. These markings are present among males but absent in adult females.



Adult female spiny soft shell about to consume a baby red ear slider
baby spiny soft shell in stomach contents of a cottonmouth
Adult female almost entirely healed after likely encounter with alligator snapping turtle
Texas spiny softshell turtles occur in the Pecos and Rio Grande river systems. The light border on the carapace is 4-5 times wider at the rear than the sides
Pallid spiny softshell turtles occur in the Brazos, Neeches, Red, Sabine, San Jacinto and Trinity River systems. White tubercles without rings are present on the posterior half of the carapace among young specimens and males.