What’s the difference between Florida and Spiny softshell turtles? Here at Backwater Reptiles headquarters, we regularly ship out soft-shell turtles, but the two species that we have found to be the most popular (and prevalent) are the Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox) and the Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spitfire). Read on if you want to learn about what makes these turtles similar and what makes them different.
Morphology & Appearance
As far as looks go, both species of turtle are semi-flat with soft shells – go figure, right? We’ve heard them described as wet, leathery pancake turtles before and don’t disagree. They also both have snooty little protruding snout noses, long necks, and paddle-like back feet.
What really makes these two turtles differ from one another in appearance most is the patterns and colors on their shells. The Florida softshell has orange markings on its head and edging its carapace. As it matures, these bright colors tend to fade into duller browns and olive green shades. The spiny softshell on the other hand, is a shade of brown, tan, or olive with darker speckles on the shell. Another distinguishing trait of the spiny softshell are the small spines that edge the circumference of the turtle’s shell.
Both species of softshell turtle are carnivorous and eat prey items ranging from small crayfish to aquatic insects. In the wild, both are opportunistic feeders and will eat any animal that is small enough to fit in their mouth.
In captivity, we feed ours crickets, canned insects, and even roaches. They can also eat small feeder fish from any pet store or varieties of frozen worm turtle pellets (i.e. bloodworm pellets).
Keeping Softshells in Captivity
Because their morphology is very similar, both the Florida softshell and the spiny softshell have very similar care requirements when kept in captivity.
The first thing to consider before purchasing a pet softshell is their size. For a turtle, they can grow quite large. The average size for a softshell is 12 inches, but it’s not unheard of for these guys to get up to two feet long. Large turtle = large enclosure, so keep that in mind when purchasing.
Softshells are also known for their attitudes. They have been known to bite not only handlers but other turtles. Make sure that they are not bullying their tank mates (if they have any).
Because both the Florida softshell and the spiny softshell are scooters and burrowers, they require a substrate that supports both these habits. Sand is best because in addition to being burrow-able, the turtles will scoot underneath it and exfoliate their shells, eliminating bacteria and fungi and stimulating new shell cell growth.
Due to the soft nature of their shells, hard, abrasive rocks and other decorative items need to be avoided because the turtles will scuff against them and injure themselves.
Although they are mainly aquatic, softshells are regular baskets as well, so an adequate basking area must be maintained. Make sure that they can safely get all the way out of the water and heat themselves as well as absorb the proper UV lights.
Ultimately, if you can handle the attitude that they sometimes pack, both species of softshell turtle make great pets. Backwater Reptiles currently offers captive bred spiny softshell turtles for sale and captive bred Florida softshell turtles for sale.