Herp Queries: Why Doesn’t My Spiny Softshell Turtle Have Spines?

Question: The name “spiny softshell” doesn’t make sense. There are no spines on my spiny softshell turtle.
Eric Unger, Birmingham, Ala.

spiny softshell turtle

bill love

Hatchling spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) don’t yet possess the “spines” on the fronts of their shells, above their heads, that will appear with age.

Answer: I’ll venture a guess that your spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera) is still a juvenile. If that’s true, the spines that give it the common name of “spiny” haven’t developed yet.  Hatchlings are very smooth and closely resemble smooth softshells (A. mutica) to a high degree. Once they reach about 4 inches in shell length, you should start to be able to feel and see small, rough nubs along the front edge of the shell, above the head.

spiny softshell turtle

bill love

The spines on this adult spiny softshell turtle earn this species its common name.

By the time your spiny softshell is showing signs of maturity, you may find you have a handful of a pet to house and handle. The spines are not a concern, but all the American softshell turtles can deliver a nasty bite. 

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