The Florida Softshell Turtle
Eventually we will come out of our shells but for the time being we remain temporarily closed due to COVID. In the meantime, let’s talk about Florida Softshell Turtles (Apalone ferox). Like all turtles, the vertebrae are attached to the shell but unlike most turtles, the carapace is flattened and leathery providing them with the speed and flexibility to navigate freshwater environments that are additionally occupied by American Alligators (Alligator mississippienis).
Female Softshells can reach lengths of over 2 feet – double the size of the largest males. Mating occurs from March to May with nesting taking place from March to July. A typical nest can have up to 24 ping pong-sized eggs and females can lay multiple nests per year making them the most prolific egg-laying reptiles in North America. Incubation takes about two to three months.
In addition to the “soft” shell, the turtle has a long snorkel-like neck and despite a lack of teeth can inflict a powerful bite. (Their species name “ferox” means ferocious). Escorting a softshell off of a road can be difficult. The plastron (underside of the shell) is minimal, giving them the flexibility to reach back and bite the hands that are helping them. They give Snapping Turtles a run for their money. They also can release a nasty musk from their cloacae to fend off predators.
We see this turtle most commonly on the airboat ride and occasionally digging a nest in the soft shoulders of the highway.