Smooth Softshell Turtle: Ultimate Guide

When it comes to turtles and finding your new pet, there are endless species to choose from. But finding the one that’s right for you is challenging, isn’t it? Especially if you are new to the turtle world, it can be hard to tell the difference between the species. 

The last thing you want to do is buy the wrong turtle or get conned into buying a different species to the one you wanted. The panic of making this mistake haunts us and often leaves us with nowhere to turn, frustrated and unsure. 

Well, no more! Today we are here to put your mind at ease and find you the turtle of your dreams. But for now, let’s take a look at the Smooth Softshell turtle and turn you into an expert! We have guides for countless species, so be sure to check them out.

Male vs. Female 

Female Smooth Softshell turtles are larger than males. Females will have a carapace of 6.5-14 inches long, whereas males will be between 4.5 and 7 inches long. Quite a size difference there!

Female turtles also feature a brown or olive-colored softshell that has irregular dark brown blotches on. The male shell will be brown or gray with dark dots or spots over, like juvenile shells. 

You also see differences in their tails and claws. Male Smooth Softshells have thicker tails than females, while the females have longer hind claws. You can use these features to differentiate between the two sexes. 


Smooth Softshell turtles can be identified by their shells usually. They are soft and smooth, without tubercles like we see on other turtles. The carapace is smooth, flexible, and leather-like. They range in color depending on the sex of the turtle. 

They also have an anapsid skull and don’t have openings behind the orbits. It’s a throwback to some of the earliest reptiles on the planet and rarely seen these days. Instead of having a thick and hard shell, the turtle is covered by skin. 

The plastron is white or gray with no markings, and their underlying bones are visible; they also have a tubular snout and round nostrils. All of these features help to identify the Smooth Softshell Turtle. 

As a Pet

These turtles make great pets! It’s worth noting that they are more aggressive than other turtles, so you will need to handle them carefully and avoid placing them with other species that could lead to fighting. 

As these turtles grow larger than others, you need ample space for them. The size of the tank will vary on whether it’s a male or female turtle and needs to be large enough to house them. We have more on this in the care section later on. 

When deciding if it’s the right turtle for you, consider its aggressive nature, sharp claws, and strong jaws. These turtles can do some serious damage and aren’t best for small children or other animals. 


The lifespan varies from 11 to 20 years. We tend to see these turtles live for longer (up to 20 years) in the wild and only up to 11 in captivity. A lot of this is down to their environment not being maintained correctly, shortening their lifespan. 


Compared to other turtles, Smooth Softshells are much lighter. It’s their lightness that allows them to propel through the water and swim as well as they do! Their long necks and snouts have also adapted to allow them to breathe for extended periods underwater. 

They can also bury themselves in mud or sand at the bottom of rivers and lakes to hibernate from November to March. 

Breeding Season

The breeding season for these turtles is from May to June in the wild. There is little evidence that this changes in captivity, providing the temperatures match their natural habitat in the late spring/summer. Female Smooth Softshell turtles are only able to lay eggs once a year. 

Breeding occurs when the male seeks out the females. There can be some aggression at this point if the female is non-receptive. They are passive to the advancements and will copulate in deep pools with the male turtle taking charge. 

Once over, the nesting period will begin for the eggs. 


The female turtle lays three clutches with roughly 28 eggs in. The eggs are nested between May to July and placed in sandy areas. It takes 8 to 12 weeks for the eggs to hatch, usually between August and September. They are tiny when they hatch but begin to grow quite quickly. 

Growth Rate

Once hatched, Smooth Softshell turtles are small, measuring no more than 1.6-inches. However, they don’t stay small for long. They grow fairly quickly initially, although it does slow down as they age. It can take a few years for the turtles to reach maturity and stop growing. It varies from turtle to turtle, and there will be points where your turtle looks as though it isn’t growing at all, but trust us, it is!

Life Cycle 

A Smooth Softshell turtle’s life begins when it hatches and starts to grow quite quickly. As babies, they are cared for by their mothers and are offered high levels of lipids to keep them alive and feed the hatching until they mature. 

As the shell changes color and grows, you will tell if it’s a male or female. Male and female turtles mature at different ages. Male Smooth Softshell turtles will reach sexual maturity at age four, but it will take females until they are nine. The shell will change when they are juveniles too. 

They will then mate and continue the life cycle until they reach the end of their lifespan.


While we don’t have an exact number for the population, they have been listed in Minnesota as a special concern. There are several reasons for this, mainly due to human interference. In recent years, their natural habitat has changed with river channelization, siltation, and water pollution, all held responsible for a decline recently. 

The sandy beaches being littered have attracted animals that hunt and eat the eggs of Smooth Softshell turtles. Water pollution is making it harder for these turtles to extract oxygen. Humans also disrupt nests, and the commercial harvesting of these turtles has contributed to the decline too. 

Conservation efforts and initiatives have been in place since the 1990s to try and combat this, with the Soft Smooth Shell turtles now listed as non-harvestable species. It is hoped that further initiatives like this will remove the threat this turtle faces. 


These turtles eat a range of creatures and plants and are capable of catching their prey. They hunt in both the water and land and can move quite quickly to catch their prey. 

They eat snails, worms, fish, amphibians, crayfish, insects, clams, isopods, spiders, and plant material. As they catch most of this in the wild, you need to replicate their diet in captivity. You can feed them dried or fresh and live insects and other animals depending on your preference. 


Smooth Softshell turtles are preyed on by raccoons and skunks. These animals usually go for their eggs and are attracted to areas where humans have left rubbish. 

Humans are also predators of these turtles. The damage to water and surrounding areas has made it difficult for these turtles to live healthy lives in their natural habitat. They are also harvested for their softshells, a trade that is growing rapidly, it seems. Protecting these turtles has now been listed as a concern in Minnesota, with initiatives in place to protect them, as we mentioned earlier. 

Roaming Range

While there is no set number, you will need plenty of room for these turtles to roam! Their larger size means they need larger tanks than other turtles and plenty of water space too. 

You will want a deep enough tank to allow them to submerge in water and still have some land space. Opt for larger tanks, especially when housing multiple turtles, too, avoiding any issues for them. 


There doesn’t seem to be diseases that specifically target Smooth Softshell turtles. However, you will need to be aware of respiratory illnesses and parasites that can impact your turtle’s health. Regular vet appointments can help to avoid these becoming serious, as well as feeding and caring for your turtle appropriately. 

In the wild, these shells are easier to break, making them easy prey for alligators. Their soft shell does pose a threat, though, especially if they are attacked. In your tank, you will need to check the shell isn’t damaged. Wounds and infections are common in softshell turtles and need to be treated immediately.

They are also susceptible to ear infections and intestinal parasites. Annual vet appointments are recommended to keep on top of this. 

Eye Color

Their eyes tend to be brown with black pupils. Some eyes will have a yellow tint, but it varies from turtle to turtle. 


Smooth Softshells will hibernate underwater from the winter to the early spring. Usually, they bury themselves under the substrate, hidden away from predators. In your tank, you will need to make sure there is ample space and depth for them to do this too. 

Can they swim?

Yes, these turtles can swim! Their long neck and snout nose allow them to do this with ease. They are even referred to as swimmers as they stay underwater for extended periods.  


As we mentioned earlier, these turtles need lots of space. You will need to maintain them regularly for your turtles to thrive. Ideally, a tank of 75 to 100 gallons is needed. The water must be clean, and there must be nothing sharp or rough that can damage your turtle’s softshell. 

An efficient filter system should be in place to prevent bacterial and fungal infections too. You will want to include driftwood or a floating island to provide your turtle with space to bask when needed. 

You will need to heat the tank effectively, too; ideally, it should be 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Water heaters and lights can be used to achieve this, and UVB lighting too. 

You will want some clean play sand in the bottom of your tank, too, replicating what turtles have in the wild. Feed these turtles once a day as much as they can consume in 15 minutes. Use the diet suggestions that we listed earlier. 

While the tank setup might take a while, you will find it’s an easy task once you have started maintaining it!


Like other turtles, Smooth Softshell turtles aren’t too expensive to purchase. It’s best to do your research beforehand to ensure you purchase it from a reputable seller. You want to check that the turtle is alert and moves quickly when collecting your turtle. Smooth Softshells move quite quickly, and a lethargic turtle would be a cause for concern. 

Any reputable seller will also provide you with care information and the health history that you need. If they are reluctant to provide this information, be wary of what they are trying to sell you. 

Fun Facts

  • It’s the only turtle without a spine or bumps on the carapace!
  • It’s lighter than other turtles so that once you have started maintaining it, it can swim faster 
  • They can stay underwater for hours 

Final Word

And just like that, we have come to the end of our Smooth Softshell turtle journey today! As you can see, these turtles make wonderful pets and thrive in the correct environment. They aren’t too tricky to care for, and providing the tank is kept clean, infections should be rare. 

Remember to provide them with the correct food and keep an eye on their softshells for any damage, and you are sure to have a happy and thriving turtle!