Apalone spinifera
(LeSueur 1827)

ā-pă-lō'-nē — spī-nĭ-fĕr-ă

A Pond Slider, basking on a Spiny Softshell, basking on a log in Shoal Creek, Cherokee County. © Jenn Rader.
An adult Spiny Softshell from Hamilton County, Kansas. Image © Travis W. Taggart.
An adult Spiny Softshell from Cherokee County, Kansas. Image © Lisa Wehrly.
An adult Spiny Softshell from Kingman County, Kansas. Image © Ken Brunson.
An adult Spiny Softshell from Lincoln County, Kansas. © Kevin Urbanek.
An adult Spiny Softshell from Kansas.Image by Suzanne L. Collins, CNAH.
An adult Spiny Softshell from Saline County. © by Brenda Gunder.

The Spiny Softshells has a soft flexible carapace, with a much-reduced plastron. There are small bumps or tubercles along the front edge of the carapace, which differentiates it from the Smooth Softshells. The carapace is patterned with spots or blotches. The limbs are patterned with dark streaks and spots, and a yellow line extends through the eye on each side of the head.
Adults normally 125-432 mm (5- 17 inches) in carapace length; largest specimen from Kansas: female (KU 197330) from Kingman County with a shell length of 523 mm (20 1/2 inches) and a weight of 15.9 kilograms (35 pounds), collected by Richard Keller and Ralph Massoth, Jr., on 10 September 1984; maximum carapace length throughout range: 21¼ inches (Conant and Collins, 1998).

This species is found in rivers, streams, and larger ponds and reservoirs statewide in Kansas but is least abundant on the Western Plains.

(, Museum Voucher) (, Observation) (, Literature Record)
Open icons are questionable records; Click on a marker to view details. Export Google Earth (.kml)
  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 292 Total Records 
  • 162 Museum Vouchers 
  • 130 Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Allen (1); Anderson (2); Barber (9); Barton (4); Bourbon (1); Brown (2); Butler (8); Chase (2); Chautauqua (7); Cherokee (11); Cheyenne (2); Clark (3); Coffey (1); Comanche (5); Cowley (20); Crawford (2); Doniphan (5); Douglas (13); Edwards (1); Elk (2); Ellis (23); Ellsworth (1); Finney (2); Franklin (3); Greenwood (2); Hamilton (6); Harper (5); Harvey (2); Hodgeman (2); Jefferson (1); Kearney (2); Kingman (8); Kiowa (5); Labette (10); Lane (4); Linn (1); Logan (4); Lyon (1); Marion (1); Meade (4); Mitchell (1); Montgomery (12); Morris (1); Nemaha (1); Neosho (2); Ness (2); Osage (3); Osborne (1); Pawnee (7); Pratt (4); Reno (6); Rice (2); Riley (2); Rooks (4); Rush (1); Russell (4); Sedgwick (16); Seward (4); Shawnee (2); Stafford (4); Sumner (8); Trego (7); Unknown (3); Wabaunsee (2); Wallace (1); Wilson (2); Woodson (2);

Natural History:
Spiny Softshells occur in a wide variety of aquatic habitats. They are predominantly carnivorous, eating a wide variety of prey including insects, amphibians, crayfish, tadpoles, and frogs. Both species of softshell turtle in Kansas are capable of remaining submerged for long periods of time due to the ability to remove oxygen from the water through membranes in the mouth.
The Spiny Softshell Turtle becomes sexually mature between ages 8 and 10. A large female turtle may live up to 50 years. The turtles mate in mid to late spring in deep water. The male will nudge the female's head while swimming and if she chooses to mate, the male will swim above the female without clasping her with his claws(this is unlike other turtles). The turtle quickly lays her eggs on a sunny sandbar or gravel bank in a flask-shaped cavity that she has dug close to the water. The turtle nests more than once during a single season. She can lay between 9 to 38 round calcareous-shelled eggs. The eggs hatch around August and September and hatch in the spring. Sex is not determined by incubation temperature of the eggs.

Occurrence Activity:
White dates indicate there is at least a single recorded occurrence on that date. The darker blue a date is, the greater the relative number of observations for that date.
Many western Kansas streams have reduced or absent surface flow due to the extensive use of water for irrigation. It is unknown what effect this is having on populations of our most aquatic turtle species.
Cornelius Rogers removed representatives of this form from the Medicine River 1 mile south of Lake City, Barber County, Kansas, on May 27, 1934. It was also taken from a sand-bottomed prairie streamlet 6 miles east of Turon, Reno County, Kansas, on May 25, 1934; and from an algae-filled pool near a stream 2 miles northeast of Cheney, Sedgwick County, Kansas, on the same date.
Spiny Softshells may be taken year-round. Daily creel limit is eight turtles, single species or in combination (with Snapping Turtles and/or Smooth Softshells). Possession limit is three creel limits. A valid fishing license is required (unless exempt). Legal equipment: hand, hook and line, setline, hand dip net, seine, turtle trap, or gig.
Conant and Goin (1948) named UMMZ 95365 Amyda (=Apalone) spinifera hartwegi. An adult male; length of carapace, 168 mm.; collected at Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas, during the end of May, 1945, by Robert Young, and secured through the courtesy of Charles E. Burt. Young's field notes state: "The stream it was caught in runs through the southeast part of town and is called the Canal. It was formerly the old Chisholm Creek Bed and runs northwest and southeast and empties into the Big Arkansas River at the south side of Wichita." Two additional specimens of A. s. hartwegi (UMMZ 95363-64) and a specimen of A. mutica (UMMZ 95362) were collected at the same time and place as the type. A. s. hartwegi is no longer recognized.

1925 Linsdale, Jean M. Land Vertebrates of a Limited Area in Eastern Kansas. Thesis. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. 312pp.
1927 Linsdale, Jean M. Amphibians and reptiles of Doniphan County, Kansas. Copeia 1927(164):75-81
1928 Burt, Charles E. Some distributional and ecological records of Kansas reptiles. Transactions of the Academy of Science St. Louis 26():186-208
1934 Brennan, Lawrence A. A check list of the amphibians and reptiles of Ellis County, Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 37():189-191
1934 Burt, Charles E. and W. L. Hoyle. Additional records of the reptiles of the central prairie region of the United States. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 37():193-216
1935 Brennan, Lawrence A. Notes on the Distribution of Amphibia and Reptilia of Ellis County, Kansas. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 114pp.
1935 Burt, Charles E. Further records of the ecology and distribution of amphibians and reptiles in the middle west. American Midland Naturalist 16(3):311-366
1935 Burt, Charles E. and William L. Hoyle. Additional records of the reptiles of the central prairie region of the United States Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 37():193-216
1937 Brennan, Lawrence A. A study of the habitat of reptiles and amphibians of Ellis County, Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 40():341-347
1947 Smith, Hobart M. Kyphosis and other variations in soft-shelled turtles. University of Kansas Publications Museum of Natural History 1(6):117-124
1948 Conant, Roger and Coleman J. Goin. A new subspecies of soft-shelled turtle from the central United States, with comments on the application of the name Amyda. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan (510):1-19
1956 Clarke, Robert F. Identification of Kansas turtles. Kansas School Naturalist 2(4):1-3
1956 Clarke, Robert F. Turtles in Kansas. Kansas School Naturalist 2(4):1-15
1962 Gish, Charles D. The Herpetofauna of Ellis County, Kansas. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 34pp.
1977 Knight, James L. and Joseph T. Collins. The amphibians and reptiles of Cheyenne County, Kansas, Report Number 15. Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence. 19pp.
1980 Clarke, Robert F. Herptiles and fishes of the western Arkansas River in Kansas. United States Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 55pp.
1989 Collins, Joseph T. New records of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas for 1988. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (75):15-18
1992 Edds, David R. Population status and incidence of anatomical abnormalities in semiaquatic turtles of the Walnut and lower Arkansas river basins. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. 58pp.
1997 Plummer, Michael V., Nathan E. Mills, and Steve L. Allen. Activity, habitat, and movement patterns of Softshell Turtles (Trionyx spiniferus) in a small stream. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 2(4):514-520
2000 Van Doren, Mark D. and Curtis J. Schmidt. A herpetological survey of the Fort Larned National Historic Site, Pawnee County, Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (120):8-11
2001 Collins, Joseph T. New records of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas for 2000. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (124):6-8
2001 Taggart, Travis W. The KHS 2001 spring field trip: A rainy rendezvous. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (124):12-14
2002 Riedle, J. Daren and A. Hynek. Amphibian and reptile inventory of the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant, Labette County, Kansas. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (2):18-20
2004 Delisle, Jennifer M. and William H. Busby Biological inventory for vertebrates at Fort Larned National Historic Site of the southern plains network. Natural Heritage Inventory, Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence. 61pp.
2005 Taggart, Travis W., Curtis J. Schmidt, and Richard S. Hayes. Geographic distribution: Apalone spinifera. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (13):10
2006 Taggart, Travis W. Distribution and status of Kansas herpetofauna in need of information. State Wildlife Grant T7. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. vii + 106pp.
2007 Taggart, Travis W., Joseph T. Collins, and Curtis J. Schmidt. Estimates of amphibian, reptile, and turtle mortality if Phostoxin is applied to 10,000 acres of prairie dog burrows in Logan County, Kansas. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. 5pp.
2008 Taggart, Travis W. KHS 2008 spring field trip. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (25):2-3
2012 Rohweder, Megan R. Spatial conservation prioritization of Kansas for terrestrial vertebrates. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 151pp.
2015 Seim, Jeffery Population Structure and Habitat Association of Aquatic Testudines in Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 66pp.
2018 Fischer, Annie. Species profile: Spiny Softshell Turtle Kansas Wildlife & Parks Magazine (July-August):44
Account Last Updated:
7/29/2019 1:46:52 PM

Travis W. Taggart © 2020 — Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University