Trionychidae – Softshell turtles

Called "softshell" because their carapaces lack horny scales

These turtles are characterized by their flat, leathery carapaces, which lack the hard scutes typically found on other turtles. This distinctive feature gives them a more hydrodynamic shape for life in the water and contributes to their common names, such as “flapjacks” or “pancake turtles.”

Softshell turtles are widely distributed in freshwater systems across parts of North America, Asia, and Africa. Their habitats are usually calm or slow-moving waters with soft, muddy bottoms where they can quickly bury themselves. This behavior is a defense mechanism against predators and a strategy to ambush prey.

Unlike their hard-shelled counterparts, softshells do not often bask in the sun. Instead, they spend most of their time submerged and are excellent swimmers. Their preference for staying in the water or mud is also a strategy to maintain the moisture of their soft shells, which can dry out and crack if exposed to the sun for too long.

One of the unique adaptations of softshell turtles is their ability to move quickly on land. This agility is unusual among aquatic turtles and can be advantageous for escaping danger or seeking new habitats when necessary.

Softshell turtles possess specialized blood vessels in their soft, permeable shells and skin that facilitate a process known as cloacal respiration, allowing them to extract oxygen directly from the water, which is particularly useful in anoxic or low-oxygen conditions.