Florida Softshell Turtle Hatchlings

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Florida softshell turtles are almost entirely aquatic, but can move quickly both in water and on land. Most commonly, they can be spotted basking in the sun on muddy banks or on floating vegetation. Although they appear harmless, they can be extremely aggressive and will bite or scratch with their long claws if threatened.

They can be easily identified by their distinct snorkel-like nose and relatively flat, leathery shell. In adulthood, the thick layer of skin will turn a dark brown, reddish color helping them camouflage into the sand and mud at the bottom of their freshwater habitats. Florida softshell turtles, despite their name, range throughout the lower southeast coastal regions of the United States. These turtles have a lifespan of up to 30 years in the wild.

Nesting for this species of softshell turtle takes place between mid-March and July in southern Florida. One female will potentially nest from two to seven times in one season between the months of February and August. Females will find a suitable area on land nearby the water to form their nests and lay their clutches. Sometimes they will engineer an area using their back feet to dig a hole and other times they will take up an already existing alligator nest. The number of individual eggs in a clutch can range anywhere between nine and 40! Once the eggs are laid, it can take up to 80 days for the embryo to fully develop before hatching.

Hatchlings will use their front claws to break through the surface of the egg. After they’ve emerged, hatchlings typically measure about one to one and a half inches in length with a mostly rounded body shape. Turtles, like most reptiles, do not receive parental care and are independent from the moment they hatch. Florida softshell turtles are omnivorous and their diet at such a young age includes mostly small fish, larvae, aquatic vegetation, snails, and other tiny invertebrates.

More than other softshell turtle species, Florida softshell turtles are willing to move overland in search of better food sources and conditions to lay their eggs. This can often, unfortunately, lead to hit by car mortalities on the road.

On July 3, over 18 incubating Florida softshell turtle eggs hatched! There are still some eggs in their incubation period and those remaining are a mixture of softshell turtle and diamondback terrapin eggs. These eggs and others are usually the bright side of tragic situations.

Sometimes freshwater turtles, like softshells, admitted to the clinic are struck by a vehicle when crossing the road to find a suitable place to lay their eggs. Through the exam process upon admission, hospital staff can often see if the turtle is gravid (carrying eggs) on radiographs. In the event the mother does not survive her injuries, the eggs can be extracted and incubated until they hatch.

The softshell eggs were harvested from multiple females after they passed away from injuries. One female was admitted from Cape Coral on April 20 after swallowing a fish hook. Two were admitted after being hit by vehicles. In addition, six diamondback terrapin eggs were harvested after the mother to-be, who did not survive her injury, was hit by a car in St. James City on May 28.

A few days after they hatched, the babies were released to ponds and bodies of freshwater near where the mother was hit. As of July 14, a new softshell hatchling has emerged. It will take approximately 24 hours for the egg sac to be absorbed and once the hatchling has absorbed those nutrients, it will be ready to go out to the wild for the first time!

THIS WEEK AT CROW (7/9-7/16):
There were 120 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including 10 blue jays, four Cooper’s hawks, three burrowing owls, four eastern cottontails, two fish crows, a gopher tortoise, and a red-bellied woodpecker. Recent Releases include three loggerhead sea turtles, a Virginia opossum, a great egret, and a striped mud turtle. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases!

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year!

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to http://www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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