Apalone ferox / Florida softshell turtle - Care

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Specification Description
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Family: Trionychidae
Subfamily: Trionychinae
Scientific name: Apalone ferox
Dutch name: Woeste drieklauw schildpad
English name: Florida Softshell turtle
Dieet: Carnivorous
Distribution: U.S.
Lifestyle: Aquatic
Reproduction: oviparous / egglaying
Status: Stabile
Cites: non

Apalone ferox, (Schneider, 1783)

Softshell turtles are very personable, full of character and very active. They look very unusual compared to most turtles and therefor many hobbyist are drawn to them. Like the Spint softshell (Apalone spinifera) the Florida softshell (Apalone ferox) is offered in big numbers in the United States and Europe. Most of these turtles come from so-called 'Farms' in the US and then get exported to for instance Europe. Unbelievable but unfortunately true there are several reports of Apalone ferox and relatives who are poached in their natural habitat. These are not meant for captive situations, but to be sold on local Asian markets to be used as food.


Appearance:  The group Trionychidae gets their name from their distinctive shield. These turtles miss the hard bony plates that most other turtles have. But could be described as a thick layer of skin normally laying under the hardened shell, supported with cartilage. This makes their shells a bit more flexible and feels like leather. This shell turtles would offer less resistance when swimming. In addition it facilitates easier maneuvering between fallen trunks and branches under water. They can completely withdraw their head into their shell (Cryptodires). This softshell turtle gets large, male measure 25cm on average but carapace length varies from 15cm to 29cm. On average, females get around 40cm but can reach lengths of up to 60cm. A turtle of this size can weighs up to 10 till 12kilos. Young specimens have a dark shell with light coloured spots that fade as the animals grow older. From the nose, thru the eyes on to the neck they have light to yellow-coloured line can be seen most clearly in young animals. The shield has a light to white border. The plastron is light coloured. In captivity there are also some albino variants available. Young animals of these are often orange with light spots. Adults are often completely light in colour with red eyes and a pink body. Their head is elongated and has a prominent nose and the eyes are placed on the upper side. This allows the animals to be unnoticed while it observes his surroundings on the water surface and to supplement oxygen. They have a long flexible neck and a powerful bite. Keep this in mind when handling.


Behavior:  Apalone ferox are diurnal turtles. They are very active and good swimmers. The only reason for these animals to get out of the water is to lay eggs and sun. They like to sunbathe on sand banks or in shallow waters so when disturbed they can quickly jump into the water to hide. They are generally active hunters but can act as a sit and wait hunter. Softshell turtles can dig themselves in the sandy bottoms of rivers and lakes where they live. Unless they stick out their head, they are completely hidden in the sand. They do this to hide overnight or to hunt. They can remain under water for a long time and then hide under a layer of sand or mud. Waiting until a prey animal comes along. One’s a prey, often a fish swims close enough they will quickly extend their neck and grab the fish to be swallowed swiftly. Although these turtles share their natural habitat with other species of turtles. In captivity this species like many other Trionychidae can be very territorial against other turtles. Therefore, we always recommend to house this species separately. Young animals can be very shy in captivity and when disturbed during the sunbathing they will quickly dive into the water. But in the water they feel a lot more at ease and will soon learn that hands can mean food, and they sure like food.


Natural origin and habitat:  The Florida softshell turtle is found throughout Florida except the Florida Keys, southern South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. They are mostly found in deep slow flowing lakes, ponds and streams. Here they like to hide in sandy soil. This species will also be found in slightly brackish water into estuaries and there are observations made from animals that were washed into the sea by the tides. Although they can withstand a natural colder period. This is only for a short while. They do not hibernate as some populations of Apalone spinifera will.


Handling:  Handling these turtles can be quite tricky. They have long necks and when they are removed from the safety of the water they often try to bite. Thereby we would recommend to keep handling to an absolute minimum. To avoid unnecessary stress. Small and young animals best be held by placing your hand under the body to support it and place your thumb on the plastron to keep a good grip. Do not place your hand close to the head because they will be able to reach it with their long neck. The shell is very smooth especially when wet and the legs are very strong. So they will try to push their selves out of your grip. When handling a larger animal. You can first get a grip on the hind part of the body and then place your other hand underneath the body to support it. Another option is to place a hand on each side of the shell just before the hind legs. Never lift the animals longer than necessary. If you want to move a big turtle it is best to place them in a container.


Housing:  The general care of these animals when it comes to temperatures, housing and food is similar to the Apalone spinifera. But temperatures need to be adjusted as they do not have the same cooler period. Unless you have a very large natural pond, then keeping this turtle with others is highly advised against. They can be very territorial or stress our other turtles with their active behavior. Also pairs need to be kept separate outside of mating attempts.  

Give this species a spacious, deep and large pond. As always, the more space the better as these will make use of every inch provided. A guideline  for a pond size is 10x their carapace length long and 6 times as wide and deep at least 2.5x as deep. So this means that an adult female of 40cm + requires a very large pond and not everyone has room for an enclosure like this. Would you still like to keep a softshell turtle but cannot meet the space needs of the Apalone ferox. Then Pelodiscus sinensis or male Apalone spinifera is a very good alternative.

Softshell Turtles seem more susceptible to fungal problems, skin and shell lesions because of water pollution in comparison to turtles with a harder shell. Their soft shield can damage a bit more easy and this damage can offer place for the growth of bacteria and fungi. Therefore a good water quality for Trionychidae is of great importance. Use a proper filtration system and always provide them with a basking-area to completely dry and sunbath. This species of softshell turtle likes to sunbath. Providing UVB increased vitamin absorption and resistance of these turtles significantly. By adding leaves, sphagnum moss and driftwood you lower the waters pH level. This acidic (6pH) water reduces the risk of bacterial and fungal growth.

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