This Week’s Endangered Species in Focus: Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera) Turtle

Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera) Turtle





Status: Threatened Provincially and Nationally



The spiny softshell turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtle species in North America. It is Ontario’s only turtle with a flexible, leathery upper shell. The shell is olive-grey, brownish or tan, and its edges are yellow with a black outline, along each side of the head is a distinct yellow stripe outlined in black. In adult females, the shell may be smooth, but there are several large spines or cone-like projections.  Spiny softshells begin mating between the ages 8 and 10 in mid-to-late spring and the eggs will hatch in late August to September.


Important Dates:


2008: Species assessed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act


June 30, 2013: Species granted Habitat Protection





  • In Canada, the Spiny Softshell is found only in Quebec and southwestern Ontario in the Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and western Lake Ontario watersheds;
  • The majority of Spiny Softshells in Ontario are found in the Thames and Sydenham Rivers, as well as two sites in Lake Erie;
  • Some turtles travel up to 30 km. in a year from one part of their home range to another.



  • Generally found in rivers with soft bottoms, aquatic vegetation and sandbars or mudflats;
  • Require gravelly or sandy areas for nesting and deep water for hibernating;
  • They are active during the day, eating crayfish, aquatic insects and fish;
  • It rarely ventures far from the shoreline, and may be seen basking on beaches, sandbars, logs and rocks.




  • The main factor responsible for the decline of this turtle is thought to be habitat loss or degradation resulting from shoreline development or agricultural activity;
  • This turtle suffers high mortality due to collisions with motorboats, trapping and fisheries
  • The nests of the Spiny Softshell are threatened by human recreational activities and predators such as raccoons and foxes.



  • The Spiny Softshell is protected under the Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007;
  • The Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act protects this species as well;
  • Some populations that live in Provincial Parks and Conservation Areas will receive further protection through their programs.


What YOU Can Do to Help:

  • Good nesting sites are limited; if you own riverfront property, maintain a buffer of open beach above the waterline; try not to disturb exposed sandbars or sand/gravel shorelines, especially during May to October;
  • To learn more about Ontario’s rare turtles, their habitat and conservation efforts, visit Ontario Nature’s Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas ( or the Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-Pond (;
  • The Spiny Softshell is at risk of collision with watercrafts; if you know they are in the area, proceed carefully and be observant while coming on shore, or driving over lakes and bays;



  • Some turtles travel up to 30 kilometres in a year from one part of their home range to another;
  • Spiny softshells hibernate underwater in sand during the winter months; they can go without breathing for the entire winter and absorb small amounts of oxygen through their mouth;
  • Softshells ambush their prey by lying concealed in bottom mud;
  • A large female turtle may live up to 50 years;

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