Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica mutica)
A male Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle rests in the sand along the Little Miami River at Armleder Park in Cincinnati. Here, where the river nears its confluence with the Ohio river, the river bottom and banks are sandy and support a population of smooth softshell turtles. Paul Krusling knows where the smooth softshells live in the Little Miami, so two weeks ago I met up with Paul and Joe at Armleder to photograph this guy.
At first glance, the two softshell turtles look a lot a like. They are both flat like pancakes (and are sometimes commonly called pancake turtles) and have carapaces with no scutes--thus the "soft shell" (scutes are the armored, bony plates that make up a turtle's carapace--the upper shell.) You can also see the carapace bones through the soft shell of both species, but when you look closely, differences emerge and are easily recognizable.
Midland Smooth Softshells (Apalone mutica mutica) have an apricot or peach-colored stripe that runs from the nose, through the eye, and down the neck. Eastern Spiny Softshells (Aplone spinifera spinifera) have a yellowish stripe. I was surprised at how "peach" mutica's stripe really was!
...another color to look for...blue! If you turn a Midland Smooth Softshell turtle's foot over, you'll find a blue pad. It's quite a surprise!! Here Paul held the turtle upside down so I could snap off a quick shot. The brave turtle didn't seem to mind.
...and talking about feet. Look at that webbing! Apalone mutica mutica is a very fast swimmer--the fastest swimming turtle in our area. Of course, the Spiny softshell has webbed feet too, but not quite as extensive. The Spiny Softshell turtle can bite and is more aggressive than this Smooth Softshell turtle. Maybe being just a little faster in the water makes up for the more passive nature of the Smooth Softshell turtle, which doesn't bite. Another noticeable difference...Smoothys have less noticeable markings on their legs.
A very visible difference between the two species relates to their namesakes! As you can see here, the Smooth Softshell turtle has no spines or ridges at the edge of the carapace. It's smooth! The Spiny Softshell turtle has spines and bumps (click here to see the spines of a Spiny).
...and last but not least, the carapace pattern visible on males and young Midland Smooth Softshell turtles is much different than the pattern that shows on Spiney Softshells (click here for the Spiney Softshell carapace pattern of dark circles called ocelli). Smooth Softshells have dots and dashes. This is an older male Smooth Softshell so his pattern is a bit faded (click here to see a very visible pattern on a baby Smoothy). The females of both species develop a similar pattern. Sherman Minton, Jr. in "Amphibians & Reptiles of Indiana" refers to the pattern as "lichenoid," which perfectly describes the blotchy, lichen-like look (click here to see a female softshell turtle's carapace pattern).
I have more photos of this fellow and a video of him swimming away in the water too. I'll work on getting them posted soon.