Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle
Apalone spinifera

Size:  10 - 18 inches (along carapace)

Statewide.  There are two species of softshell turtle in Oklahoma, the spiny softshell, Apalone spinifera, and the midland smooth softshell, Apalone mutica. 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 spiny softshell has a carapace that is textured with tiny bumps, and enlarged soft spiny protrusions at the front of the carapace. They can also be distinguished from the smooth softshells by the fleshy, triangular lobes of skin in the nostrils. The smooth softshells also tend to be drab in their coloration. 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.