Male vs Female
One notable difference between male and female Florida softshells is the difference in their size. When they reach maturity, females tend to be significantly bigger, and often grow almost twice as long. Along with size variances, males have a rough sandpaper-like texture to their shells, whereas females have a completely smooth shell exterior.
Also you will be able to distinguish what sex a Florida softshell is just by looking at their tales. Females may be bigger, but their tales are a lot shorter, barely peeking out of their shells. Males have longer, wider tales that protrude further out of their shells.
Another stark difference is the age at which males and females reach sexual maturity. Males are ready to reproduce around 2-3 years old, but females aren’t able to reproduce until they are around 9.
Despite significant size differences between males and females, Florida softshells share a couple of key physical features. Their upper shells are often an olive/yellowish color when they are younger, which deepens to brown when they reach adulthood. You will also find dark blots across their shells.
One of the most notable features of a Florida softshell is their noses. They have snorkel-like snouts which extend outwards, and have circular nostrils. Florida softshells also have webbed feet.
As a Pet
Due to their complex care needs, it is not recommended that you purchase a Florida softshell if you are a beginner. However, they can make intriguing pets if you’re willing to invest in caring for one of these creatures. Getting their housing setup is the tricky part, but after establishing a routine they will bring you entertainment for years to come.
Here are some factors you must consider when housing a Florida softshell:
- Heat: softshells prefer warmer conditions so keeping their tank at around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended
- Light: Use UVB lighting for around 10-12 hours a day.
- Substrate: These turtles love to bury themselves in riverbed in the wild, so you’ll need to emulate these conditions in their tank
If you have a small child, it’s best not to have a softshell turtle as a pet because of their aggressive nature. Similarly, curious dogs and cats could end up with some pretty nasty injuries if they try to engage with these turtles, not to mention the turtle getting injured itself.
Within the wild, Florida softshell turtles have an average lifespan of around 30 years, however, in captivity they can live longer depending on the level of care they are given.
As Florida softshell turtles rarely leave the water, their snorkel-like noses and long necks allow them to access the water’s surface in order to breathe. During hibernation, they have mastered a way to breathe without needing to replenish their oxygen supply, so they can stay dormant for a pretty long time.
Florida softshells turtles are polygynandrous creatures, meaning that both males and females have multiple breeding partners. Breeding season usually occurs between April and early August, and females can lay up to 5 clutches of eggs per year.
Florida softshells come on land to lay, often laying eggs near alligator nests or females burrow holes in soft, sandy areas. When laid, eggs are oval in shape and have a diameter of about one inch.
The egg goes through three stages of development and after 70 days, the eggs are ready to hatch. There are usually around 10-38 eggs per clutch.
The growth rate of Florida soft shell turtles is dependent on several factors. Firstly, female softshells grow to be about twice the length of males. Males stop growing at around 14 inches in length, however, females can grow up to 24 inches.
Additionally, the growth depends on how old the turtle is. Once they hatch they are around 1-1.25 inches, however, males mature a lot sooner than females do. Under life cycle, you can find what size both male and female Florida softshells grow to and each stage of their life.
The life cycle of a Florida soft shell spans across 5 different stages.
- Embryo: When Florida softshells are incubating, they are referred to as embryos. After 70 days they are ready to hatch.
- Hatchling: During this stage they are around 1.-1.25 inches in length, and have a round shape. All hatchlings are independent, and feed on small fish, snails, aquatic vegetation and other tiny invertebrates.
- Juvenile: Juveniles are the same oval shape as adults, and their shells are an olive/yellowish color in appearance. They also have large, round, dark spots and orange and yellow markings around their faces. At this stage they’re around 3 inches long, and remain a juvenile until they grow to about 4 inches.
- Sub-adult: The sub-adult state of a Florida softshell turtle varies depending on the sexes. As a sub-adult they are considered sexually mature, for males this is around two-three years old but for females this is at nine years. Male shells are around 3.1-3.3 inches at this stage, whereas females are around 5.5-6 inches. Turtles at this age feed on larger prey such as worms and fish.
- Adult: This is the final stage of the cycle. Their shells fade to a brown-gray color, but some adults retain the juvenile markings around their faces. Adult males reach around 14 inches in length, whereas females grow to around 24 inches. At this age they feed on birds, rodents and other larger prey.
According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the Florida softshell is locally common and widespread throughout the southern American states, but there is no overall population estimate. The species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN’s endangered species list.
Florida softshells have a pretty varied diet. In the wild they eat insects, amphibians, eggs and fish.
Domesticated softshells are also primarily carnivores, however, they can adapt to eating floating turtle pellets. Fish, worms, crickets and other small prey are good, nutritional foods to offer your pet turtle. Softshells on the larger side will often eat pinky mice and small amphibians like frogs.
When feeding a Florida softshell, you should always place the food in the water, so they don’t have to get out to eat. In general, adult softshells should be fed once daily, and allow them to eat as much as they can consume in 15 minutes.
In the wild, softshell turtles are often a delicacy for alligators. However, they can also suffer under the hands of humans.These threats include harvesting for the pet trade, harvesting for meat consumption and accidental motor vehicle death.
As they are very aquatic creatures, Florida softshells rarely ever leave the water, and prefer to live in ponds over other bodies of water. Here they will spend long periods of time buried in the muddy-bottomed waters, but will occasionally come on land to lay eggs.
Unlike their hardshell relatives, Florida softshells are more susceptible to infections and illnesses. As they don’t have a tough shell to protect them they can become injured pretty easily. Open wounds often lead to infection and many softshells are also susceptible to ear infections and intestinal parasites.
Recently, a novel virus has killed off more than 300 Florida softshells, however, the cause of this viral infection has not yet been discovered.
Florida softshell turtles tend to have brown-gray colored eyes.
Florida softshell turtles spend most of their time underwater. They usually only emerge from the water to bask or lay eggs. As they are often found in warmer states, they can remain active all year round and become inactive on colder days. In northern regions they hibernate in the winter months.
Can they Swim?
Florida softshell turtles are fully aquatic turtles, and despite their large shells can swim up to 15 miles per hour. If you are looking to own one as a pet you need to ensure you own a large tank (allow for 5 to 10 gallons per one inch of shell length) to accommodate the softshell’s swimming needs.
Florida softshell turtles have very complex care needs. You will need to pay close attention to their diet, and use a tank that is big enough for them to swim around in.
In addition, Florida softshells are rather aggressive, so if you want to house one as a pet it’s better to have just one turtle living in the tank. You will want to add sand substrate to the bottom of your tank to emulate the river conditions that the species is native to.
However, do not add any rocks or objects that could scratch your turtle’s shell as this can lead to an infection.
Average price range of purchasing a Florida softshell is between $6-$280. Although they are fairly cheap, you will also need to factor in the costs of caring for your turtle.
Did you know that the Florida softshell is the largest species of softshell turtle found in North America?