...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.
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.