African Softshell Turtle: Ultimate Guide

The African Softshell Turtle, or the Nile Softshell Turtle is a large type of turtle species from freshwater habitats and environments in Africa. This turtle is found in the West, East and Middle Africa, and although it is commonly referred to as the African Softshell Turtle, it is not the only type of softshell turtle in the region. 

This kind of turtle is also called the Trionyx triunguis, and has a very soft, fleshy and leathery kind of feeling shell, hence the name softshell turtle! This species of turtle lives mainly in water, as they are very strong swimmers, and can absorb lots of oxygen from the water. As a result, they do not need to resurface often in order to breathe, and love being in the water. 

Unlike most other turtles, the Africal Softshell Turtle can be found in both freshwater bodies of water, the sea and even brackish waters. Due to their swimming skills, they have no problem surviving, no matter what the salinity of the water is! 

So, what is the African Softshell Turtle really like? With this guide, we will cover everything there is to know about the Trionyx triunguis! 

Male vs Female

So, what are the differences between the male and female African Softshell Turtles? For the most part, female softshell turtles will be significantly larger than a male softshell turtle, even if they are the same age. 

You can also determine the sex of the African Softshell turtle by examining the tail. For males, the tails seem to be thick and long, whereas female tails tend to be thinner, and do not protrude far from the rear of the carapace. 

In addition to this, male softshell turtles can often have lighter colored shells than females, whose shells tend to get darker with age, and can have some mottling or blotching. 


The African Softshell Turtle, or Trionyx triunguis is one of the largest softshell turtles with a carapace length, or shell length of about 37.5 inches. As they have soft shells, the carapace bones in the shell are covered with very thick, leathery feeling skin.

For most African Softshell Turtles, they will look olive or brown in color, and their shells may be covered in yellow rings or white spots. The underneath of the shell, or the plastron, is typically white in color.

These kinds of turtles can be identified by their pointed noses, which appear snorkel-like in nature. They also have very thick skin around the mouth and long neck area, and wrinkled skin on the legs. 

As a Pet

African Softshell Turtles are often kept as pets, but be warned, they are incredibly high maintenance creatures, and very difficult to care for. As these turtles can grow very large, they will need big enclosures, with lots of space and room to swim and explore.

They also require very strict diets, and specific foods to keep them healthy. They are omnivores, and need a vast range of foods from small fish, crustaceans and leaves. 

As softshell turtles do not have the hard shell to protect themselves from predators, they can be very aggressive, as this is their main form of defence. As such, if kept as pets, you should keep African Softshell Turtles away from other curious pets, and from children as they can be very defensive, and will attack if they feel threatened. 

This is also why it is not a good idea to house more than one of these turtles in the same enclosure, because they will most likely attack other turtles, even if of the same species. 


When living in the wild, the African Softshell Turtle has a life expectancy of about 25 to 50 years. Most wild turtles can live to about 50 years old. On the other hand, when kept in captivity, these turtles tend to have a similar lifespan of about 30-40 years, and tend to do rather well in captivity or when kept as pets. 


One of the most interesting adaptations of the Nile Softshell Turtle is the ability to camouflage. These turtles have very pale, white underbellies called plastrons. This is so that when they are in the water, their dark shell cannot be seen from above, and their white underbelly makes them appear as a cloud to predators underneath them. 

They are also very fast swimmers, and have large claws and teeth which can easily help to defend themselves if under attack. 

Breeding Season

There is not much known about the mating season of this species of turtle. However, what we do know is that the nesting period happens between March and July. They will lay their eggs on the earthen and sandbanks of islands in the Mediterranean regions, whereas in Western Africa, they tend to lay eggs around the mouths of rivers. 


During the nesting season, female African Softshell turtles will lay from 25 to over 100 eggs each season. How long the eggs are left to incubate for is dependent on the latitude of the eggs, and can range from around 60-80 days. Once the eggs hatch, the sex is determined genetically, rather than by temperature. 

Growth Rate

All softshell turtles grow at different rates, and it depends on their living conditions and a range of other factors. Most softshell turtles can reach their full size between the age of 5 and 8 years old. 


Many African Softshell Turtles, or Nile softshell turtles currently reside in Israel and the Mediterranean basin, but no one has been able to correctly estimate the number of Nile Softshells. Some studies have shown that there are about 500 or less in this area, and the species is considered vulnerable. 

Most nature conservation organizations have defined the Nile/African softshell turtle in Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel as a species that is in need of protection and care, and may be endangered. 

The IUCN red list places the trionyx triunguis as a vulnerable species that is close to extinction. Whilst the creature is not yet completely endangered, the population of these turtles in the Mediterranean is considered critically endangered. 

This is due to a range of reasons. For instance, in Africa, these types of turtles are hunted for food, whilst their shells can be used to make guitars and shields. In other regions, they may be fed by tourists, which affects their ability to find sustenance for themselves, and they grow accustomed to being fed. 

Other Nile Softshells are often killed by local fishermen as their hooks pierce the skin and the softshell. For the most part, these turtles have become endangered due to habitat changes, such as rising water levels that have a negative impact on the nesting sites, and can flood their nesting areas. 

These turtles can also be poisoned by the waste and toxins flowing into their habitats, which can spread disease and infections. In addition, their eggs are often eaten by predators, restricting their ability to repopulate.


The African Softshell turtle is considered omnivorous, but they are mainly carnivorous creatures. They will feast on a lot of protein, eating mostly mollusks, worms, frogs, small fish, crustaceans, carrion and will even eat other turtles if needed. 

They can also eat nuts, seeds, fruits, leaves and other types of sustenance that they can find in their habitats. They are excellent predators, as they can catch and seize prey due to their swimming skills. They also have very long necks able to reach and eat prey on rocks above water. 


They live in freshwater bodies, the sea, and brackish waters. These aquatic turtles do prefer to spend most of their time in water, but will need to bask and nest on land. This is why they require a pond with sandy or muddy substrates when in captivity. 


Their main predators are alligators in the waters that they reside. As African softshells are excellent swimmers, they are great predators, and can attack prey with ease. They also reside in muddy and sandy waters such as rivers and lakes, where they may come across larger aquatic predators, which can eat the turtles. 

In addition to this, African softshell turtles can often have their eggs eaten by wild cats, foxes, jackals, mongooses, and dogs who will dig into the nests and eat the eggs. 


As they are softshell turtles, they can be prone to diseases and infections. For instance, lack of clean water can lead to shell issues, due to harmful bacteria. They also do not have the thick shells like other turtles, which can leave them prone to health problems and injuries.  


Softshell turtles hibernate for the winter by burying themselves in mud and sand at the bottom of a river or pond. They will not eat during this time, but will need oxygen, but at a reduced rate. They do this with an adaptation called pharyngeal breathing. 


Depending on where you purchase, softshell turtles can cost anywhere between $150 to $400 or even up to thousands of dollars. They are also not wallet friendly pets as they require large enclosures, clean water tanks and very specific diets filled with protein. Having one of these turtles as a pet will be a huge investment and commitment, as they live for up to 50 years!

Fun Facts

Did you know that the African Softshell Turtle is the only species of the Trionyx genus that is not yet extinct? 

The oldest recorded African Softshell was 53 years old!

In addition, the African Softshell Turtle is one of the largest softshell turtles known to mankind!