Spiny softshell turtle

A turtle with a soft leathery shell and a pointy snout

Peter Paplanus

Their common name is derived from the spiny projections located at the front edge of their carapaces, which are more pronounced in juveniles. Adult turtles retain a somewhat flattened, pancake-like shell that has earned them the endearing nickname “pancake turtle” or “free-range pancake” among enthusiasts.

This species is highly aquatic, making its home in a variety of freshwater environments, including rivers, lakes, streams, and even irrigation ditches or ponds that are in proximity to larger waterways. The coloration of their shell is typically olive-gray, brownish, or tan, providing excellent camouflage against the sandy or muddy bottoms where they are often found. The periphery of their shell is usually highlighted with yellow and rimmed with a distinct black outline, adding to their distinctive appearance.

Spiny softshell turtles are ambush predators, employing a sit-and-wait strategy for capturing prey. They bury themselves in the substrate with only their nostrils and eyes exposed, using their long necks and quick movements to snatch up any prey that wanders too close. Their diet is opportunistic and varied, including insects, crayfish, and fish, which they can consume thanks to their long, tubular snouts and rapid strike capability.

However, despite their adaptability, Spiny Softshell Turtles face numerous challenges. Water pollution from agricultural runoff, industrial waste, and residential contaminants can degrade their habitats and affect their health. Habitat destruction through the development of waterfront areas removes crucial basking and nesting sites, while habitat fragmentation can isolate populations and hinder genetic diversity.


Population est.
Québec, Ontario
United States

Did you know?

  • They are able to stay underwater for up to 7 months.
  • When hunting, Spiny softshells use their sight, chemical signals, and vibrations which help to detect the prey.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No