Midland Smooth Softshell Turtle
Apalone mutica

Size:  10 - 14 inches (along carapace)
Distribution:

Central and eastern portion of state.  There are two species of softshell turtle in Oklahoma, the spiny softshell, Apalone spinifera, and the midland smooth softshell. Both species prefer swift flowing rivers and tributaries with sand or gravel bottoms, although they can often be found in lakes and reservoirs, and have been known to venture into ponds. The smooth softshell, as its name implies, lacks tiny bumps or spines at the front of the carapace, the top portion of the shell. They can also be distinguished from each other in that the smooth softshells have round nostrils and the spiny softshells have fleshy, triangular lobes of skin in the nostrils. The spiny softshells also tend to be slightly more vividly patterned with round spots on their carapace, making them easier to identify at a distance. Their diet consists of mostly live prey, such as fish, frogs, crayfish, insects, and worms.

The softshell turtles do not have a hard external shell like most other turtles. Instead, the hard part of the shell, actually modified vertebrae, is smaller and covered with a leathery skin and has a thick ring of cartilage surrounding the entire shell, making the shell pliable. This gives the turtle superb maneuverability in the water. In fact, the softshell turtles are the only turtles in the US that are capable of swimming after and catching live healthy fish. They bury themselves in shallow water where they can extend their heads above the surface for air, and submerge again without exposing their entire body.

Front of carapace lacking spines.