Florida Softshell Turtle

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The Florida softshell turtle is the largest species of softshell turtle in all of North America. They are native to the southeastern United States and found primarily in Florida but can also be seen in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas; however, this softshell is the only one whose range spans the entire Florida peninsula.

Most turtles have hard shells composed of scutes which are hard, bony plates that can also be found on the backs of alligators. Softshells are different because they have a cartilaginous carapace (top shell) that is additionally covered in thick, leathery skin. Florida softshells have pancake-like bodies with exceptionally long necks that can extend up to three fourths of their body length. These turtles have large, webbed feet each with three long claws that have the capability to do some serious damage. Their most identifiable feature, other than their shell, would be their long, tubular, snorkel-like noses.

They mostly occupy freshwater even tolerating brackish environments such as swamps, lakes, marshes, ponds, small rivers, creeks, or man-made ditches. As solitary animals, the Florida softshell prefers to bury under sand or muddy substrate in the water. They are incredibly fast-moving in the water and on land with the ability to scurry at 15 miles an hour! They can be quite aggressive and may grasp or scratch with their sharp claws or strong jaws if they feel in danger or if they are handled- one of the reasons it is important to pick them up from the back of the shell if ever moving one out of the road. Beyond moving a turtle out of the road, it is not recommended to handle them. Additionally, they are equipped with a defense mechanism that omits an odorous musk to keep away predators. Florida softshell turtles are almost entirely aquatic, only emerging from the water to bask or lay eggs.

On March 3, a female Florida softshell turtle (#21-756) was admitted from one of our partnering veterinarian clinics. The turtle was found in the road after being hit by a car. Upon initial examination, veterinarians found that there was a slight fracture on the front right portion of the shell. This fracture was not displaced and would be able to heal on its own. Radiographs were taken to ensure there was no internal trauma. The radiographs also revealed she was carrying 27 eggs! The average breeding female softshell turtle weighs in around seven kilograms and this female weighed 12 kilograms at intake. She was placed in our outdoor turtle tank to be monitored and will hopefully be released in the next few days to lay her eggs in the wild!

Most breeding occurs from March through July. Females can lay up to four or five clutches each year. Eggs are laid near the water’s edge either in an abandoned alligator’s nest or dug out hole. Each clutch of eggs can contain anywhere from ten to 38 eggs. When they hatch, the babies are fully developed and fend for themselves.

If a Florida softshell turtle is spotted crossing the road, it is likely traveling to a safe location to lay its eggs. Make sure to give them time and space to cross safely or assist them by carefully moving them in the direction that are heading. To pick up a softshell turtle, slide one hand undenearth the turtle from the back end and lift. Avoid picking up from the sides as their long necks can easily reach around and they can bite!

THIS WEEK AT CROW (2/23-3/2):
There were 50 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including five eastern cottontails, four royal terns, a red-shouldered hawk, a herring gull, two mourning doves, a Florida softshell turtle, a great egret and a marsh rabbit. Recent Releases include two gray catbirds, six double-crested cormorants, a bald eagle, and a southern flying squirrel. 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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