Softshell Turtles in Florida (3 Species, Pictures, FAQ)

There are as many as 25 species of softshell turtles in the world. There are 3 species of softshell turtles in Florida, which is what we’re going to look at in this article. Softshell turtles are a type of aquatic turtle that do not have shells like other turtles.

A softshell turtle’s shell is just as the name implies, soft. Its shell is rubbery, leathery, flimsy to the touch, and does not provide as much protection as a turtle with a hard shell, like the Florida snapping turtle. Nonetheless, these turtles can get quite large and have no problem thriving in Florida’s wetlands.

Without wasting anymore time, let’s get straight to looking at the softshell turtles found in the sunshine state!

Types of softshell turtles in Florida

The 3 types of softshell turtles found in Florida are the Florida softshell, smooth softshell, and the Gulf Coast softshell.

1. Florida softshell

Florida softshell | image by Malcolm Manners via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Apalone ferox
Adult size: 6-24 inches

The Florida softshell turtle is found throughout the entire state of Florida. Though they are most common in the sunshine state, they are also found in Southern South Carolina, Southern Georgia, and Southern Alabama.

The males and females can be vastly different in size. The males may only reach 12 inches in length, but the females grow much larger and often reach up to 24 inches. These aquatic turtles can be found in streams, rivers, lakes, marshes, and other wetlands.

They normally feed on snails, fish, and other small creatures they can easily catch and eat. However, they have been seen eating young birds like ducks and herons. Some Florida softshells have been known to grow to over 30 inches in length and weigh upwards of 100 pounds!


2. Smooth softshell

smooth softshell turtle | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Apalone mutica
Adult size: 4.5-14 inches

There are 2 subspecies of smooth softshelled turtles, both are found in North America. They are most common in central states in the U.S. but range as far east as the Florida panhandle. Smooth softshells are common in the Mississippi River drainage basin and watershed from Louisiana all the way to North Dakota.

Like the Florida softshell, smooth softshell females are much larger than males. The female of this species can reach up to 14 inches with males reaching about 7 inches. This is referred to as sexual dimorphism when there is a noticeable difference in appearance between 2 sexes. This species is much smaller than the Florida softshell, but the male to female size ratio is similar.

Smooth softshell turtles are primarily carnivorous and prefer to feed on aquatic insects, fish, crayfish, and amphibians. They will occasionally feed on algae and other plant material so they are actually considered omnivorous.


3. Gulf Coast spiny softshell

spiny softshell turtle | source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

Scientific name: Apalone spinifera aspera
Adult size: 18 inches

The gulf coast spiny softshell is probably the most rare of softshell turtles in Florida. The are only found in the Florida panhandle, and in St. Mary’s River in Nassau County, north of Jacksonville. Females of this species can grow up to 18 inches in length. That puts this Florida softshell between the previous two species, in terms of size.

Spiny softshells have a similar diet as the other types of softshell turtles we mentioned. With their flat and smooth shells, softshell turtles will go to the bottom of a body of water and bury themselves in the mud. They will wait there until their next meals passes by, that’s when they use their long necks to snatch their unsuspecting prey.


Softshell turtles in Florida Q&A

Are Florida softshell turtles dangerous?

Florida softshell turtles can get quite large, over 100 pounds in some cases. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are dangerous. If softshell turtles feel threatened they can defend themselves, but they will retreat if given the chance. Softshell turtles do not attack people.

Can you keep soft shell turtles in Florida?

Freshwater turtles can only be taken by hand, dip net, minnow seine or baited hook. Taking turtles with bucket traps, snares, or shooting with firearms is prohibited. Softshell turtles are protected in the state of Florida and may not be taken from the wild from May 1 to July 31.

The above are quotes from the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission.

In regards to keeping one as a pet, you should never take a wild animal from its natural habitat and keep it as a pet. On top of that, these turtles grow much too large for the average person to keep as a pet.

Can you eat a Florida softshell turtle?

Of all turtles that are eaten by people, softshell turtles are actually considered to be among the tastiest. Since the state of Florida tells us the months we may not take softshell turtles, we must assume that they can be taken in all other months with a proper fishing or hunting license. If you plan to cook and clean a softshell turtle in Florida, check out this guide on Wikihow.

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