Softshell terrapin

Softshell terrapin

Apalone spinifera

Common name:

Softshell terrapin

Scientific name:

Apalone spinifera

Alternative common names:


The softshell terrapin is an aquatic species that inhabits almost any type of permanent waterbody, including fast-flowing, large rivers, lakes, reservoirs, small, marshy creeks, farm ponds and desert springs. It is mainlycarnivorous, feeding oncrustaceanssuch as crayfish, as well as insects, small fish, worms, molluscs, tadpoles and frogs. It occasionally eats some plant material, although possibly by accident.

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?

North America, Africa and Asia.

What is its invasive status in South Africa?

NEMBA Category 2.

Where in South Africa is it a problem?

Not known.

How does it spread?

It spreads through pet trade.

Why is it a problem?

It preys on small indigenous fish species.

What does it look like?

Description: Females are larger than males, with a carapace length of 16.5-35.6cm compared to 11.4-17.8cm in males. Females and males also differ in colour. The carapace of adult females is tan or brown with irregular dark brown blotches, while the carapace of males and juveniles is brown or greyish with scattered, small dark brown dots or dashes.

Habitat: It prefers large, unpolluted rivers with sandy substrates. It can also be found in lakes, impoundments, and shallow bogs.

Breeding: They begin mating from the age of 8-10 years. They mate in mid to late spring in deep water. The male nudges the female’s head while swimming, and if she chooses to mate, the male swims above the female without clasping her with his claws (unlike other turtles). The female lays her eggs on a sunny sandbar or gravel bank in a flask-shaped cavity that she digs close to the water.

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