Saturday, August 6, 2011

Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtles in the Great Miami River

Being a birdy kind of girl, when I'm out hiking, I'm usually looking for birds. I listen for small chips, chirps, seeps and other birdy sounds often staring into the treetops, the bushes...or on the forest floor searching them out. Over the years, I've added wildflowers, insects, and snakes, into the mix, but other than box turtles, red-eared sliders, and snapping turtles, I was oblivious to the variety of turtles living in the ponds and rivers of our area, but now that Rick and I have started canoeing, a whole new world has opened up...


Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera)
...would you guess this little trumpet-nosed creature conceivably masquerading as a character out of a Dr. Seuss book lives in our local rivers? He does...

His carapace (shell) is leather-soft and as pliable as rubber. Males retain the dark circles (ocelli) on their shells, but females loose the defined pattern and the circles turn into drab splotches.


The Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle gets its name from the small, conical bumps or "spines" (tubercles) that protrude from the front of the carapace.


Spiny Softshell Turtles may look cute and adorable, but watch out!
I don't think he's as vicious as a honey badger, but he's as aggressive as a snapping turtle and can also bite (not with teeth, but with razor-sharp edges to his jaw). He's also a very strong swimmer, which offers him a degree of protection from predators and helps make up for his carapace's lack of bony plates (scutes).

The adult male's carapace feels like sandpaper, but the female's is smooth. Young Spiny Softshell Turtles resemble males in color and pattern, but their shells are smooth for the first couple of years.


...another unique ability of a softshell turtle is its ability to "breath" underwater. How? The turtle can exchange gases through its skin by pumping water in and out of its mouth and pharynx where surface blood vessels pick up oxygen from the water and expel carbon dioxide. They can stay underwater for up to five hours, but usually remain submerged for only twenty minutes.

Sources:
Ohio Department of Natural Resources - "Ohio's Reptiles" (a free guide from the ODNR Division of Wildflife)
HerpNet - Iowa Reptiles and Amphibians

These photos are from July 7, 2011 while I was canning the Great Miami River with Paul Krusling (click here for a post about Paul). Yesterday, Rick and I canoed the Little Miami River, and we spotted over 12 Eastern Spiny Softshell turtles! They were everywhere and we got so close to them. I'm about 95% positive we also saw a Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle. We were about 10 feet from it and could seen none of the spiny tubercles that identify the Spiny Smoothshell. I didn't bring my camera, but I've created a few sketches, and am going to work up a painting or two...

For a post on spiny softshell turtles on the Little Miami River, click here.

To compare this Eastern Spiny Softshell turtle with a Midland Smooth Softshell turtle, click here.

27 comments:

Lois Evensen said...

No, I didn't know we have so many turtles in our area! Love the images and the information. What fun to learn about these!

Sue said...

How cool is that! What a unique turtle. All we ever seem to see up here is the standard box turtle or an occasional snapper.

Montanagirl said...

He's really unique. What fun to read your very informative post about him. Your photos are excellent.

Out on the prairie said...

These are unique creatures.I used to catch lots when fishing an area of a river.Their girth made them fun to bring in.

grammie g said...

Hi Kelly Now how interesting is that fellow...
Amazing what there is out there to learn about.
That's quite the snout he has ,and when we think turtle, we think of a hard shell...very odd!!
Interesting find,photo, and info!!

Roy said...

Looks like its got a trunk rather than a nose Kelly.{:)

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Gorgeous pictures, Kelly... You got some great 'up close and personal' shots...

Thanks for my birthday wishes.

Hugs,
Betsy

forgetmenot said...

Wow, Kelly--I should know by now not to miss a single day of your posts!! The turtle is so interesting-thanks for sharing all the info as well as the amazing photos. The blue heron photos are BEYOND amazing--excelllent! And, those egrets are cute as can be. Again, I am in awe of your photography skills. Such a great blog to visit! Mickie :)

rebeccainthewoods said...

Those are awesome photos! I remember seeing softshells practically the size of garbage can lids in the Okefenokee this past spring. It was awesome.

Randy Emmitt said...

Kelly,
Gee I used to canoe the Little Miami, never knew about these turtles. Never seen one before too. Thanks for sharing and providing all this info on them.

Toni said...

We have these beauties here on our state park and in the water. I had the opportunity to see and touch one about a year ago while chatting with a professor from Edinboro University who studies turtles in our area. They have an awful odor also.

Birding is Fun! said...

Wow! I've never heard of or seen a turtle like that. Very cool!

Elaine said...

Once again you've introduced me to a new critter. Excellent photos and information.

holdingmoments said...

Fascinating and informative post Kelly, with the usual superb pictures.

I love his nose lol

forestal said...

wonderful photos - what a great find

dan

dAwN said...

Awesome photos! I have never seen one of these turtles before..thanks for sharing!

Janice K said...

Great pictures and interesting information. The close-ups show how beautiful they really are. As a child I never liked the snakes, but I did enjoy catching turtles.

A.L. Gibson said...

Absolutely incredible photographs, Kelly! I'm blown away! I love all species of turtles but these just might be my favorite native guys :)

Adrienne in Ohio said...

Wonderful photos, Kelly! I have only seen these in aquariums and they've always been underwater. It's so nice to see them close up thanks to your photos, and without having to peer through fingerprinted glass and murky water. Thank you for sharing! I look forward to seeing the paintings, too.

Angela said...

Oh my what a beautiful creature.

Atanasio Fernández García said...

Hello Kelly! What a spectacular turtle! Not just his funny face, also his shell, which appears to be covered with skin! Saludos desde España!

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Wow what great pictures. It is so prehistoric looking and you have made it look quite beautiful.

The information you supplied was great as well.

Thanks
Guy

NCmountainwoman said...

Amazing! I've never seen a spiny softshell. Very interesting.

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone! I'm definitely in love with this fellow. There's so much to learn about our turtles. Tomorrow we're going to try to canoe the Little Miami river, so maybe I'll get some photos of the Spiny Softshells that live there!

Carol Mattingly said...

Kelly finally got my computer to let me post responses. Drives me batty. Love this little turtle. Never seen him before but I'm going to look for him now if I'm up that way. He's adorable. Carol

Bob Bushell said...

Beautiful images and great comments.

Caroline said...

Gosh, I learn something everytime I come here! Thanks - these are great shots of an unique creature!