Apalone spinifera, the Spiny Softshell Turtle

The Spiny Softshell Turtle is a damn weird looking turtle. Instead of the regular bone/rock like turtle shell, the genus Apalone all have a leathery or rubbery shell. So they’ve got a soft shell. Biologists are so clever….. Faint vertebral lines and numerous dots, rings, splotches and speckles decorate the olive colored rubbery shell. They’ve also got some yellow highlighting. There is a rows of bumps or tubercles on the edge of the shell near the head, which gives the species epithet, spinifera, or spine bearing. Males and juveniles have more defined and darker markings, while older females are a bit splotchier. Their nostrils extend out giving them a pig like appearance. They are attractive turtles, but again, weird.

Basically, it’s a spotted pancake with a snorkel.

Spiny softshell turtle
Snorkel nosed, bumpy shelled, speckled, leathery pancake of a turtle.

Highly aquatic, they use the snorkel noses to keep their bodies hidden below the water. They seem to like sandy or muddy bottomed streams. They’re very carnivorous and can be a it aggressive and flighty, at least for a turtle. No one knows much else about them.

They are not the only softshell turtles in the world. The Chinese Softshell, brought into the United States for both the pet trade and as a meat turtle, has been reported in nearby states. Apparently they’re good eatin’. The native ones aren’t faring the best, so if you need to eat turtles, eat the Chinese ones, eliminating an invasive specie through soup. If you are especially proud of your soup, you may want to enter it in an invasive specie cook off. Which yes, is a thing.

The Spiny Softshell turtles consist of two subspecies, A. spinifera spinifera, the Eastern Spiny Softshell, and A. spinifera aspera, the Gulf Coast Spiny Softshell. Very little evidence that either exists commonly in the Piedmont, which seems to be on the edge of their range. However, a few Gulf Coast have been found, so they are included for completeness.