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. Adult female pallid spiny soft shells have a bluish chin and throat and mature female Texas spiny soft shell turtles will bear orange colored lips.  The exact role of these colors is currently unknown.  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 shell turtles are powerful swimmers and almost entirely aquatic, fond of basking and usually staying close to their aquatic habitat.  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.  Soft shell 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 secondarily 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.  Soft shell 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.

Large adult female from White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas. May 2017
Adult females basking at White Rock Lake. Dallas, Texas April 2017
Soft shell turtles are sometimes found with fish hooks in their mouths. Grand Prairie, Texas
The presence of the float on the line indicates that a fisherman may have cut the line upon noticing that a turtle had been cut
Adult female from Trading House Creek on the University of Texas at Arlington campus
Adult female from the Trinity River near Lewisville, Texas. April 2017
Adult female from Grand Prairie, Texas. Notice the blue coloration on her chin and throat. April 2015
Adult female from Houston, Texas. Notice the blue coloration on her throat and chin. April 2017
Adult female from Houston, Texas. April 2017
Spiny softshell turtles have tiny spines on the carapace that feels like sandpaper. However, these spines are not present in adult females. Adult male from Houston, Texas
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. Fair Park, Dallas, Texas
baby spiny soft shell in stomach contents of a cottonmouth
Adult female almost entirely healed after likely encounter with alligator snapping turtle. trinity River, Tarrant County, Texas
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.