Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct

In case you forget, softshell turtles are insanely weird


I wanted to use this photo because it’s weird and interesting, not because I have anything particularly insightful to say about softshell turtles. The animal shown here is a Florida softshell Apalone ferox that I photographed in captivity earlier in 2011. Turtles of many kinds look odd when they adopt resting or basking poses; this softshell looks so odd that you could probably fool some people into thinking that it’s an alien or something. Anyway, A. ferox is a mid-sized softshell (carapace length 15-60 cm, with females being larger) from freshwater habitats of the southeastern USA. Individuals are occasionally found in brackish water and sometimes get swept out to sea. It likes to partially bury itself in soft mud and is said to be especially speedy at tunnelling and digging. It’s also pretty fast on land – there are videos on youtube of individuals moving at speed. Having mentioned videos, I love this one…

Florida softshell takes a dive, makes golf interesting

After I posted this video on facebook (back in May 2011), it occurred to me that the forelimbs of the featured animal are asymmetrical. But, no, it’s just that the animal doesn’t fully extend its right forelimb. It does seem to be missing its right eye, however.

One interesting bit of softshell trivia (of relevance to those especially interested in anatomical changes that occur during ontogeny): old males sometimes develop enlarged crushing platforms on the edges of the upper jaws (why males and not females? As mentioned above, females are larger). They might use these ‘platforms’ to crush molluscs. A. ferox is mostly carnivorous, eating everything from crustaceans and snails to frogs, fish and birds, but it might also eat plant material on occasion. And here’s another interesting photo of a Florida softshell, especially interesting if (like me) you’re into necks. The photo is by Johnskate17 and was taken from wikipedia.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on softshells, see…

And for other articles on other kinds of turtles, see…

More on turtles in 2012, and much else besides. Ichthyosaur Revolution and sexual selection in Mesozoic ornithodirans to come first.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Starting Thanksgiving

Enter code: HOLIDAY 2015
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >


Email this Article