Wild About Illinois Turtles - Family Trionychidae
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smooth softshell (Apalone mutica)**
Photo © Dr. E. O. Moll
The female smooth softshell turtle averages seven to 14 inches in length while the male is usually five to seven inches long. This turtle's shell is soft, smooth and leathery with no scales or scutes (plates). It gives the animal a pancakelike appearance. The plastron (lower shell) is white. A single light stripe extends from the eye to the throat on each side of the head. The smooth softshell turtle has a pointed nose.
The smooth softshell turtle lives in Illinois’ large rivers that have many sandbars and clean, sandy bottoms. It is a powerful swimmer and moves well on land, too. It buries itself in sand with only the head sticking out far enough to reach above the water's surface for breathing. This turtle searches for food in the early morning and late evening. It will bury itself in mud to overwinter. The mating season lasts from April through May. The female deposits between five and 31 eggs in a sandbank near the river during early summer. The site is always in direct sunlight. The number of eggs produced depends on the female's size (the larger her size, the greater the number of eggs). Eggs hatch in September. This animal eats crustaceans, fishes, amphibians, insects and mollusks (snails, slugs and others).
spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera)
Photo © Scott R. Ballard
The female spiny softshell turtle averages seven to 17 inches in length while the male is about five to nine and one-fourth inches long. The tan shell is leathery and covered with bumps. It has no scales or scutes (plates). Each side of the head has a light stripe behind the eye and a light line behind the jaw. The neck and legs are olive with dark mottling. The feet are strongly spotted or streaked.
The spiny softshell turtle lives statewide in rivers and bodies of still water that have sandbars or mud bars. It is a powerful swimmer that is very agile on land, too. It basks on sandbars. This turtle buries itself in sand with only the head sticking out far enough to reach above the water's surface for breathing. The spiny softshell hunts for food in the early morning and late evening. It will bite and scratch if disturbed. It buries itself in mud or sand to overwinter. The mating season occurs in April and May. The female deposits from four to 32 eggs in a nest dug in the sand in late spring or early summer. The nest is generally placed in full sunlight. Eggs hatch in August, September or October. This turtle eats aquatic animals it can capture, including crayfish, insects, fishes, frogs, tadpoles and mollusks (snails, slugs and others).
* = threatened in Illinois
** = endangered in Illinois