Florida Softshell Turtle

 Florida Softshell Turtle

©Darlene B. Durham 2014

 

TGO Nature Center, Education, Series, Turtle, Reptile, Softshell, Nature

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Durham

 

You have probably encountered Florida Softshell Turtles here at TGO.  Taylor has helped a few off of the road and we have seen others do the same.  The above photo was taken in May of 2014 of a female near the bridge on the nature trail.  She was digging a hole to lay her eggs.

Florida Softshell Turtles are large turtles and can be quite heavy.  Their bodies are flat and their shape has been compared to a pancake.  Unlike many of our Florida turtles, which have hard shells to protect their bodies, the Florida Softshell has a leathery type skin covering its carapace.  Because of this soft shell, softshell turtles tend to be more aggressive.  They use their sharp claws and strong jaws to protect themselves.

The Florida Softshell Turtle spends most of its time in the water.  It has a long neck and head with a long and round nose.  This allows this aquatic turtle to stay in the water for a longer period of time sticking their nose out of the water to breathe, much like a snorkel.  They are also capable of pharyngeal breathing.  They can take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide through a membrane in the throat and bypass lung breathing.   This allows them to stay submerged for hours.

They prefer slow moving or still waters such as lakes, ponds, streams, canals and roadside ditches.  They usually stay in the water except to bask in the sun or to lay eggs.  They can be very fast on land as well as in water.

The Florida Softshell Turtle is carnivorous and their diet consists of fish, frogs, insects, crayfish, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks, and birds.  Their coloration allows them to blend into their underwater environment.  The will often cover themselves with sand, mud or debris at the bottom of the water.  This camouflages them as they wait for prey to pass by and they are quick to snatch a meal.

The female Florida Softshell Turtle is much larger than the male.  Females can grow to approximately 24 inches long while the male usually grows to about 12 inches.  These turtles can live up to 20 years in the wild and 30 years in captivity.

When it is time to lay her eggs, the female will dig a hole in a sandy area near the water’s edge.  She will lay 10 to 30 eggs.  At times, she may use an active alligator nest to increase the protection of her eggs since alligators are very protective of their nests.   Nesting occurs between mid-March and July in southern parts of Florida and between June and July further north.  The turtle in the photo at the top of the page was digging her nest at TGO in Central Florida in mid-May.   A female can nest two to seven times in a season.

Unfortunately, softshell turtle eggs are a popular meal for some animals and birds including raccoons, foxes, skunks, crows and the American Black Bear.  For the eggs that survive, the tiny turtles will crack their shells using their egg tooth and claws after about two to three months of incubation.  These newly hatched turtles are only about 1.25 inches long and must stay hidden to avoid becoming a meal for small alligators, snakes, fish, bullfrogs, herons, egrets, armadillos, skunks, eagles, kites and otters.

As for the Florida Softshell Turtle we saw digging a nest, we checked back two days later and the nest had been raided.  There were pieces of egg shell around the nest.  We don’t know if any of the eggs were spared.

Knowing all of the challenges for the Florida Softshell Turtle eggs and new turtle hatchlings to overcome to survive, it brings a new appreciation for these large aquatic turtles.  Enjoy them when you see them (and carefully help them off our roads when possible – but watch for those claws and jaws!).

The photo below, taken by Taylor Durham, shows a female Florida Softshell Turtle digging her nest to lay her eggs.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Softshell Turtle, Florida, Nest

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Durham

 

The photo below shows a close-up of the female Florida Softshell Turtle’s head and face.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Florida, Softshell, Turtle, Head, Face

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Durham

 

To see more photos of the Florida Softshell Turtle, click on this Florida Softshell Turtle Photo Album link.

There is additional information about the Florida Softshell Turtle in this Florida Softshell Turtle Rescue article.

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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