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Florida Softshelled Turtle

Order: Chelonia
Family: Trionychidae
Genus/species: Apalone ferox

The Florida softshell is the largest of the New World softshell turtles (which are all believed to have originated in the Old World) and has the most Old World characteristics such as: relatively large size, tolerance for brackish water, and longitudinally wrinkled carapace. The young Florida softshell is olive-yellowish in color with large gray spots, yellow and orange markings on the head, and a yellowish border around the carapace. These juvenile markings are mostly lost with age. Adults are brown-gray sometimes showing traces of the juvenile markings. The plastron of the juveniles is a slate-gray.

These turtles look like big leathery pancakes. The adults are brownish-green or tan with blotches on their skin. Their shells are covered with skin, and are soft around the edges. Their noses are long and round. When they swim, they stay underwater and stick their nose up to breathe, like a snorkel. Their feet are webbed and their necks are quite long. The females are much bigger than the males. Females may reach up to 24 inches (61 cm) long and males usually grow to only 12 inches (30 cm).

Softshell turtles can be very aggressive, and they sometimes bite each other and turtles of other species spontaneously or when feeding. Turtles with reduced shells or soft shells tend to be more aggressive than their more protected relatives.

Distribution and Habitat
Florida softshell turtles are found on the coastal plains south of an imaginary line connecting Mobile Bay, Alabama, and Charleston, South Carolina, including all of Florida except the Keys.

Their preferred habitat is slow-moving bodies of fresh water with mud or sand bottoms. They do, however, occasionally enter brackish water near mouths of streams. They spend much of their time buried in the soft bottom with only their head exposed.

Diet in the Wild
Softshell turtles are primarily carnivorous, feeding on aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, waterfow,l and amphibians. They hunt and chase down prey as well as scavenge. They may also bury themselves in the sand with only the head exposed and ambush unsuspecting prey when it comes within reach.

Nesting occurs from early March to July. Nests are cavities dug in sand and earthen banks. Clutches may consist of 17 to 22 eggs, which are oval and about one inch (2.54 cm) in diameter. Hatchlings are about 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) long.

Life Span
Florida softshells may live more than 30 years in captivity.

They are neither threatened nor endangered, although they are frequently used for soup.

Fun Facts
Softshell turtles are capable of pharyngeal breathing. This means they can bypass lung breathing by taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide through a membrane that lines the throat, creating a direct gas exchange within the water. There is also some limited oxygen exchange through the skin. Other reptiles and amphibians are capable of similar gas exchanges. Pharyngeal breathing is very important as a hibernation strategy.

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