LIFE: Spiny softshell turtles are large, Iowan turtles.
Females can grow up to 17 inches in length, while
males reach only about half of this length. Softshell
turtles are easily recognizable due to the appearance of
their carapace. Spiny softshells do not have the bony
scutes common to other turtles; instead, theirs is flat
and leathery with flexible edges. The shell of adult
males tends to feel like sandpaper, while female shells
are smooth with several large spines at the front of the
carapace. Adult females also have a more drab
coloration, while the spots break up to become large
dark blotches. In addition, females have a very short
tale while males have much longer tails. In both sexes,
there are two lines on the side of the head, and the
neck and feet are patterned with yellow and black.
One thing that sets them apart from other
turtles native to Iowa is the extensive webbing on their feet. Once the turtles reach maturity, they will begin breeding in May and laying their eggs in June or July. Females lay their
eggs in nests on sandbars with high levels of sunlight.
Due to their close proximity to the water, many eggs
are killed by carnivorous mammals. The eggs are
brittle and small, make them easy to access.
HABITAT AND RANGE: The spiny softshell turtle
is found throughout Iowa, in rivers, streams, and large
lakes. They enjoy sandy and muddy lake bottoms, as
well as sandbars for sun-basking and laying their eggs.
DIET: Spiny softshell turtles are mainly carnivorous,
feeding on almost any aquatic life of appropriate size.
Most commonly, this can include things like crayfish,
aquatic insects, and fish.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Species of Greatest
Conservation Need. LEGAL to take with a valid
fishing license (LeClere, 2020). These turtles may be
trapped, taken by hand, hook and line, turtle hook
throughout Iowa. The possession limit is 100 pounds
for live and 50 pounds for dressed turtles (LeClere,2020).
Source: LeClere, J. (2020). Ornate Box Turtle
(Terrapene ornata). Retrieved July 20, 2020, from
Life History of Hartman Reserve’s
Spiny Softshell Turtle
Hartman Reserve Nature Center’s spiny softshell
turtle, Maple, was initially acquired for the new boat
house exhibit to be a part of our educational team in
June of 2020. Since Maple is still young, we cannot
currently identify her sex. As she ages, we will be able
to do this through examination
of the pattern on her shell.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: APALONE SPINIFERA