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Spiny Soft-Shell Turtles: Healthy In Missouri, Struggling In Canada 

Turtle found traveling near a private lake in Crawford County Missouri. Photo by Allison Hagene

Allison Hagene

Missouri is home to a wide range of turtle species, with many different ecosystems to inhabit. A wide variety of turtles reside all over the state. One specific turtle has a very unique look: a large smooth speckled shell, a pointed, pig-like nose, and wrinkly feet. 

The Spiny Soft-Shell Turtle is found in Missouri in large lakes, rivers, and ponds with sandy or muddy bottoms. They can be found throughout the United States, and even in Mexico and Canada. They are exceptionally good swimmers and spend much of their lives in water, even burying themselves in lake bottoms to avoid cold temperatures in wintering months. 

The soft-shell turtle is actually not currently listed as endangered in the United States but is endangered in Canada. The major issue in Canada is the advancement of industry and water structures. The turtles are losing habitat due to dams, waterside development, water level changes, and human recreational intrusions. 

Adult turtles have little to no predators, so they are able to live for (50 or more) years, but their eggs are very vulnerable, which puts their population in jeopardy. Human encroachment creates issues for breeding and egg survival, which is part of the turtles’ problem in Canada. Female turtles lay their eggs in nests on sand and gravel bars, which can easily be disturbed by beach goers and development in flood plains and along waterways. 

Spiny Soft-Shell Turtles are active in Missouri from March to October, with mating and egg laying during April and May. These turtles can be found in any large body of water that has a muddy or sandy bottom. They can also be spotted traveling between bodies of water when searching for more food, space, or mates. 

There are also subspecies of this turtle, including: the Eastern Spiny Soft Shell, the Midland Smooth Soft-Shell, and the Western Spiny Soft-Shell, which have interbred and replaced each other in some areas. 

According to the Wildlife Preservation Organization of Canada the best way to help protect and preserve this species is to reduce adult turtle injury and death, conserve habitats, and leave nests undisturbed. Even though this turtle species is currently stable in the United States, it is still important to preserve habitat, keep bodies of water clean, and reduce human disturbance to avoid issues later. 

The Missouri Department of Conservation warns that the turtle has a very strong jaw and can become defensive when provoked, as well as scratch with its claws. They recommend if you handle the turtle, to handle it with care. Missouri still has a hunting season for these turtles, which runs from July 1 through Dec. 31. (see MDC for regulations and permits)

When looking for a Spiny Soft-Shell Turtle find bodies of water with sand/mud bottoms, like:

  • The Lake of the Ozarks -Lake Taney Como
  • Table Rock Lake -Fellows Lake 
  • Stockton Lake -Mark Twain Lake 

For more information visit:

https://sites.wustl.edu/monh/turtles-of-missouri/

https://wildlifepreservation.ca/spiny-softshell-turtle/

https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/eastern-spiny-softshell

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