Chinese Softshell Turtle: The Ultimate Guide

Native, as their name suggests, to China, but found in several other parts of the globe, the Chinese Softshell Turtle is a vulnerable species that is farmed in the millions in order to support the food industry in Asia. As such, they are considered the most economically important turtle species in the world.

Male VS Female

Interestingly enough, the female Chinese softshell turtles are larger, reaching up to thirteen inches in length, where their male equivalents can only get to about eleven inches, though they do tend to have longer tails! Other than that, there’s really not much difference between the two, besides their 


Referred to as “softshell” because of the lack of horny scales – or scutes – they have a leathery, easily manipulated carapace (or upper body); though like other turtles, the middle of their carapace contains a layer of solid bone underneath, this is missing from the outer area of their shells, which makes for the more pliable feeling body.

Chinese softshell turtles are olive, with the occasional darker patch, with their plastrons (a part of the underside of the shell) being a red/burnt orange color. They also have darker spots on their heads, as well as lines radiating outward from the eyes, and occasionally bars on the lips.

As a Pet

Though certainly kept as an exotic pet, the Chinese softshell turtle is not a species recommended for beginners. As they are lacking in that all important solid shell, they’re far more likely to get injured, as their delicate bodies are easier to harm, even just from internal damage due to overfeeding.

Likewise, being handled can cause them to panic, which results in biting and scratching; because they grow so large, even experienced keepers can find them a struggle to care for.

If you do decide to take one on, you’ll need a large tank of at least ten gallons, though you may need a pond when they reach maturation. The temperature of the water must stay between 75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit and they must also have plenty of space for basking outside of the water.


Chinese softshells tend to live to an average age of thirty years or older – the oldest on record made it to ninety! Of course, it all depends on how well they are cared for.


Thanks to a pair of long, straw-like nostrils and a larger than average snout, Chinese softshells are able to “snorkel” in water that is on the shallow side; by lying at the bottom, camouflaged by mud or sand, they can hide from predators whilst also waiting to snap up at prey, though they do occasionally have to lift their heads to breathe.

They also carry a pretty cool gene which allows them to produce a specific protein,  resulting in the ability to secrete urea via the mouth. This means they can survive in brackish water by excreting urea without urinating, which helps them retain water and stay alive in suboptimal conditions.

Breeding Season

Once they’ve hit sexual maturity, they will begin to mate during the period of March to September, though in Japan breeding season takes place from May to July. The mating itself takes place either underwater or just at the surface, after which the females may well retain sperm for up to a year.


The average female Chinese softshell will lay around eight to thirty eggs per clutch, with the potential to lay between two and five clutches every year. That’s a lot of babies, with a possibility of up to 150 being born.

Each egg is approximately 20mm in size, spherical in shape and laid in a nest between 3 and 4 inches long. The incubation period is typically around 60 days, though this can increase or decrease depending on the temperature.

Growth Rate

The Chinese softshell grows at a fairly slow rate, taking a good few years to reach their mature size of approximately 7 and a half inches; as previously mentioned, they can reach around 11-13 inches in length once fully grown depending on their sex.

Life Cycle

Chinese softshell turtles hatch from their eggs after a two month incubation period. They will reach sexual maturation between the ages of four and six, and can live for thirty years or more on average.


Considered a threatened and vulnerable species, it is surprising that information collected from almost 800 turtle farms in China indicate 91 million Chinese softshell turtles are sold every year. There are more than 1499 registered turtle farms in China, so the actual number of turtles in circulation could in actual fact be double this, if not more.


In the wild, Chinese softshell turtles will survive on a mainly carnivorous diet of fish, crustaceans, insects and carrion. When kept, you’ll find they require a high protein diet that features plenty of frozen mussels and prawns, fresh fish, bloodworms, earthworms and even snails, though a high quality pellet can also be useful to prevent missing any of those essential vitamins.


Although some snakes and birds might occasionally prey on Chinese softshell turtle eggs, their biggest predators are actually humans. As they are considered a delicacy across various parts of Asia, they are sold for their meat in vast quantities, which is the reason they are such a vulnerable species.

Roaming Range

There has not currently been any research into the roaming range of Chinese softshell turtles.


Chinese softshells are susceptible to turtle shell fungus, which in captivity is developed as a result of living in an unsanitary environment like a dirty tank. Though easily treated, if the fungus is not removed it could eventually cause a bacterial infection that can be fatal.

Eye Color

Like the majority of turtles, the eyes of a Chinese softshell tend to be dark in color, usually a mix of browns, grays, blacks or yellows in some combination or another, with bold black pupils.


As is the case with their fellow softshell species, the Chinese variant will hibernate during winter, typically by burying themselves beneath some mud or sand at the bottom of a lake, river or pond – though in captivity they will still do the same in their tanks. Although they don’t need to eat during hibernation, they do still need to breathe!

Can Chinese Softshell Turtles Swim?

Yes indeed! They are actually surprisingly skilled swimmers, preferring to spend most of their time in or under the water. Even when they’ve just hatched, you’ll find they can swim just fine, no matter how deep the water happens to be.


When it comes to caring for a Chinese softshell in captivity, there are several things to bear in mind:

As explained above, you’ll need a tank of at least 10 gallons, as the softshell is a mostly water-based species. Though they won’t spend much time on it, they will still occasionally require use of a good basking spot made from rocks, smooth stones or driftwood – pretty much anything – this must be kept at an appropriate temperature to avoid drying out, so pick a low wattage heater.

You’ll always want to ensure you’re using sand, too, as softshells bury themselves as a means of protection and ambushing their prey, plus it keeps them nice and clean!

Likewise, plenty of leafy plants for shade and hiding under are ideal, but you should ensure they are not sharp and can’t cause any harm to their fragile bodies.

It is advised you should utilize a submersible heater to keep the water at its recommended temperature (75 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit) if it doesn’t reach and stay there naturally.

Bear in mind that as they are quite aggressive in general, Chinese softshells are not advised for a community habitat – hardshells can also hurt them very easily. Therefore, unless you have a tank or pond that has more than at least a few hundred gallons of capacity, do not keep softshells together or attempt to introduce other species into their habitat.


As with most things, the cost of a Chinese softshell can vary greatly depending on the provider. Ranging from between $40 and $400, factors that dictate how much they will cost you can include size, gender, age, physical condition, availability and what part of the world you’re in.

In terms of long-term care costs, they’re no more than you’d expect for your average turtle – between $200 and $500 annually, dictated by which foods you opt for, how regularly you clean out and change over the tank’s interior and bedding, as well as what kind of supplies you keep in there for them.

Fun Facts

A really interesting ability that the Chinese softshell turtle has is being able to absorb oxygen via the skin and the lining of their throats, even when totally submerged underwater. Although they will eventually need to come to the surface for a good few gasps, they can hang out there for long periods of time before this is required.