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Discover Nature: Softshell Turtles

Missouri Department of Conservation

Take a canoe out on a local pond or stream this week, and you’ll likely encounter Spiny softshell turtles.

Well-equipped for an aquatic life, these turtles have a flat, round, smooth upper shell covered with skin; webbed toes, and a long, tubular snout that functions like a snorkel. 

The shell – 5 to 17 inches in length – has small bumps or spines on the front of the upper shell and a small ridge on each side of the snout.  Shell color varies with gender and age, but ranges from olive to tan, with brown and gray blotches. 

Softshells eat a variety of aquatic animals including crayfish, insects, snails, tadpoles, and fish – but they don’t threaten Missouri’s game fish populations. 

This week, watch for spiny softshell turtles laying eggs in nests on sandbars and gravel bars near water.  These will hatch from late August to October. 

Classified as a game species in Missouri, softshells have delicious meat.  Check Missouri’s Wildlife Code for season dates, acceptable methods, and daily limits.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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