Spiny Softshell Turtle
Apalone (Trionyx) spinifera
The Spiny Softshell turtle is commonly found in rivers, ponds, or lakes along rivers. They prefer sandy bottoms.
Spiny Softshell turtles are found throughout South Carolina and in all river systems south and west of the Cape Fear River.
They will feed on crayfish, aquatic insects, and fish.
In shallow water they stick their long neck up toward the surface with their nostrils out of the water to breathe.
These turtles are not easy to handle; they use sharp, strong claws to scratch when restrained.
Their throat can extract oxygen from the water, allowing them to stay submerged longer.
Their shell can exchange oxygen with the water.
Respiratory System: Softshell turtles have adapted a highly developed respiratory system that allows them to utilize three different forms of breathing to accommodate their largely aquatic lifestyle. Like all turtles, Softshells? main form of breathing comes from their lungs, which they use to breathe air either by sticking their noses into the fresh air from just below the surface of the water, or while sunbathing totally out of the water. Softshells also have a large cutaneous (leathery skin that covers the shell) surface area that allows a constant gas exchange (oxygen) to occur both while this animal is on land and in the water. In addition, softshell turtles have pharyngeal (throat) gill slits and a cloacae that allows this turtle to respirate aquatically for some period of time. These three respiratory systems combined allow the Spiny Softshell turtle to lead a mostly aquatic lifestyle by allowing it to remain submerged for extended periods of time, but also allow it to leave the water to bathe in the sun or look for food on land.
Due to the Softshell turtles' ability to breathe through gill slits and through their skin they are affected by chemicals in the water. Of most concern are poisons used to kill unwanted fish. The chemical, called Rotenone, affects the animals ability to absorb oxygen, eventually suffocating them. Another threat is the myth that they are a nuisance species that eat the game fish that fishermen are trying to catch. Because of this myth many turtles are killed. Softshell turtles only eat smaller fish and often eat crayfish or insects that live in the water. Although not protected federally, the Spiny Softshell turtle and its seven subspecies are protected in many areas at the state level. Populations of the Spiny Softshell turtle, and specifically the Gulf Spiny Softshell turtle, seem to be of good number and stable in the state of South Carolina.