Eastern Spiny Softshell
Apalone spinifera spinifera

Common Name:

Eastern Spiny Softshell

Scientific Name:

Apalone spinifera spinifera

Etymology:

Genus:

Apalone is derived from the Greek apo  which means "separate" and the Anglo-Saxon alone meaning "solitary" referring to the original isolated Hudson River population.

Species:

spinifera is derived from the Latin spina  meaning "thorn" and fero  meaning "to bear". This refers to the spine-like tubercles found on the anterior (front) margin of the carapace.

Subspecies:

spinifera is derived from the Latin spina  meaning "thorn" and fero  meaning "to bear". This refers to the spine-like tubercles found on the anterior (front) margin of the carapace.

Average Length:

females 7 - 17 in. (18 - 43.2 cm), males 5 - 9.25 in. (12.5 - 23.5 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

9.8 in. (25 cm)

Record length:

18 in. (45.7 cm)

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier IV - Moderate Conservation Need - The species may be rare in parts of its range, particularly on the periphery. Populations of these species have demonstrated a significant declining trend or one is suspected which, if continued, is likely to qualify this species for a higher tier in the foreseeable future. Long-term planning is necessary to stabilize or increase populations.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The low, flattened carapace of this soft-shell is a wide oval in lateral outline and nearly as broad as long. The edge of the carapace is rimmed with small sharp projections. The carapace is olive to grayish in ground color with numerous dark, often ocellated spots that increase in size toward the center of the shell, and with a single dark line concentric with the margin and bordering a wider light outer band. The legs and head are olive with light brown to yellow streaks. Females can get as large as 14.4 in. in length and males can get as large as 6.5 in. The carapace is also keelless and leathery; scutes are absent and the carapace has a sandpaper texture; head, neck, and snout are elongated, snout has large nostrils and the jaws have sharp cutting edges; the feet are heavily webbed, front feet have 3 claws and the back have four; skin is gray to olive with small black spots *10760*. Sexual Dimorphism: Females are larger than the mailes; the anal opening of the mail is by the tip of the tail, while the female's opening is near the base of the tail; Males have the hollow spots pattern characteristic of juveniles, while the females pattern changes to dark brown or black blotches *10760*. Juveniles: They have a distinct pattern of small black dots and hollow black circles on a light tan or olive carapace; the inside carapacial margin is yellow bordered by a thin line of black; skin smoother than adults *10760*.

REPRODUCTION: Mating occurs in April and May with nesting occurring in June and July. Nest is built on a sunny bank in full sunlight near water. Female lays 4-32 eggs and may have two clutches a year. Hatchlings emerge from the nest in August to October. Incubation period is from 82-84 days *10760*. Females are larger than the males; the anal opening of the male is by the tip of the tail, while the females opening is near the base of the tail; Males have hollow spots pattern characteristic of the juveniles, while the females pattern changes to dark brown or black blotches *10760*.

BEHAVIOR: This species spends a great deal of time basking, usually alone. It prefers basking next to or overhanging water. This species is somewhat nocturnal. During cold weather buries in the sand and may stay down for up to 5 hours. This turtle hibernates from Nov. to Feb. This turtle is predominantly carnivorous and prefers crayfish, aquatic insects, molluscs, earthworms, fishes tadpoles, and frogs. It uses ambush or probing to capture prey. Short tempered, known to bite and scratch badly when people have tried to capture them; often rests in substrate of shallow water close enough to surface to allow them to come up for air *10760,11624*.

ORIGIN: This species is native *10760*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: Nothing is known of the population ecology of this species.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: The eggs are preyed upon by skunks and raccoons. The young are preyed on by fish, other turtles, snakes, wading birds, and mammals. Humans are primary predators of adults. (South of Virginia, alligators are also major predators of this species.) Draining of wetlands and degradation of rivers and creeks, in southwestern Virginia, are major problems for this species *10760,11624*.

References for Life History

  • 1027 - Carr, A.F., 1952, Handbook of Turtles. Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California, 542 pgs., Comstock Publ. Assoc., Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY
  • 2988 - Ernst, C.H., R.W. Barbour, 1972, Turtles of the United States, 347 pgs., Univ. Press of Kentucky, Lexington
  • 10760 - Mitchell, J. C., 1994, The Reptiles of Virginia, 352 pgs., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC
  • 11624 - Mitchell, J. C., 2001, Personal Communication, Expert review for GAP Analysis Project, Mitchell Ecological Research LLC

Photos:

*Click on a thumbnail for a larger version.


Verified County/City Occurrence

Russell County
Scott County
Smyth County
Washington County
Wise County
Verified in 5 Counties/Cities.



FROGS

Virginia is home to 28 species of frogs and toads.

SALAMANDERS

We have a large diversity of salamanders consisting of 56 different species and subspecies.

LIZARDS

Virginia is home to 9 native lizard species and two introduced species, the Mediterranean Gecko and the Italian Wall Lizard.

SNAKES

The Commonwealth is home to 34 species and subspecies of snake. Only 3 species are venomous.

TURTLES

Virginia has 25 species and subspecies of turtle. Five of these species are sea turtle.