The midland smooth softshell is rather plain-looking. The front of the upper shell lacks any small bumps or spines. Shell color varies with age and sex. Males and young have an olive-gray or brown upper shell with faint markings of dots and dashes. Adult females have a mottled upper shell with blotches of gray, olive, or brown. The lower shell is a plain cream color. Head and limbs are olive or gray above, and light gray or cream-colored below. A light stripe bordered by black is usually present behind each eye.
Lacking a hard shell, softshells defend themselves by being fast swimmers. They also use their strong, sharp claws to defend themselves when picked up. They should be handled very carefully to avoid injury.
Similar species: Our other softshell, the spiny softshell (A. spinifera), has spines or bumps along the front edge of the upper shell.
Upper shell length: 4 to 7 inches (males); 6 to 14 inches (females).
Statewide, especially in large rivers. Not common in the Ozarks.
Habitat and Conservation
Inhabits large rivers and streams where sand or mud is abundant. It has also been found in large oxbow lakes and constructed reservoirs. Like other softshells, this species is well equipped for an aquatic life, with a flat, round, smooth upper shell covered with skin; webbed toes; and a long, tubular snout that functions like a snorkel.
Softshells eat a variety of aquatic animals including fish, crayfish, salamanders, tadpoles, frogs, snails, and aquatic insects. In the wild this species is no threat to game fish populations.
Due to river channelization, siltation, pollution, and loss of sandbars, this species is likely declining in Missouri. To maintain healthy populations of this interesting reptile, harvest is controlled by state regulations. Consult the most recent Wildlife Code of Missouri for current regulations.
This species is active from early April to mid-October. To escape cold temperatures, it buries itself in the mud at the bottom of river pools. Breeding occurs in April and May, and egg-laying takes place from late May through June. Females lay 4–33 eggs, with an average of 18, in a nest on a sandbank, sandbar, or river island with some exposure to sun. Hatching occurs in 2 months. The shells of hatchlings are 1¼–2 inches long.
As a game species with delicious meat, softshell turtles are economically valuable as a human food source. Make sure you know the current regulations regarding their harvest. Though softshells have notoriously strong jaws and should always be handled with caution, this species of softshell seldom attempts to bite when captured.
Although softshells may prey upon nearly any species of fish, there is no evidence to show that they harm a fish population in natural waters. Like other components of our native aquatic ecosystems, they contribute to the balance of nature.