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Soft Shell Turtles Care Sheets
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Average Rating Given To This Care Sheet Is 0    (1=lowest, 5=highest)    Last Updated: 01/08/2012

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 Care Sheet Submitted By:

Atlas 2010

Years Experience:

5 to 10 Years


Soft Shell Turtles

Other Species or Phases this Care Sheet May Cover:

North American softshell turtles

Sexing and Characteristics:

Softshell turtles are some of the largest aquatic turtles on the market; if you’re lucky to get a male, you’ll have a very good pong turtle. If yours is a female, be ready to create it’s own zoo-style enclosure. Florida softshells are the largest, and females may reach lengths of 24 inches. Males are about half that size. Smooth softshell turtles are the smallest of the North Americans, adult females usually reaching 11-12 inches, with males also half that size. They are certainly not the beginner pet, and before purchasing make sure you read many different care guides and books, and be prepared to make a large outdoor pen in the future (especially for females).
Softshells can be sexed at around 5 inches in length (as this is the size of most adult males). Males will have longer claws and a longer tail, with the tail positioned farther out than the plastaron.

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Substrate and Water Needs:

Softshell turtles are true to their name; large gravel and rocks can easily scrape and damage their shells. Very fine gravel or sand is the best substrate, as they like to bury themselves in it with only their heads sticking out. Water for these turtles as hatchlings should be fairly shallow, only 1.25 times the turtle’s length, or, if you’re like me and too lazy to do the math, shallow enough for the turtle to lay buried in the substrate and yet still be able to have his nose above the water’s surface. Adults can have deeper water, up to 2 times its carapace length or more.

Lighting and UVB:

Like all (or most) turtles, softshells require UVB lighting to maintain proper shell development and calcium intake. If housing outdoors, they get all the lighting they need from the natural sun. If indoors, provide a 5.0 or higher UVB output bulb (tropical series). A basking bulb can be provided to raise air temperatures, but is not required.

Temperatures and Humidity:

Softshell turtles will typically rest on the bottom of their enclosure, as they do in the wild. Therefore, water temperatures do not need to be very high; 72-79 F will do just fine. Basking temperatures should also be fairly low, around 80-85 F.

Heating and Equipment:

Extra heating equipment is not required for these turtles.

Caging Provided:

A single hatchling can be housed in a ten gallon tank; keep in mind that he will most likely outgrow this in around a year or two. Increase the tank size by ten gallons for every inch the turtle grows until they reach 5 inches. At five inches, they should be in a 55-75 gallon tank. Females will continue growing, and it is best to provide adults with outdoor pens measuring 8x8 feet, with most of the space being taken up by a pool in the center. You may fill the rest of the area with sand or dirt, and plant grass and foliage if you wish. You may plant fake or live plants in their tank, and be sure to provide a basking platform.



Description of Diet:

Softshell turtles are very carnivorous from birth; as hatchlings, they may not accept any plant matter. Live fish, earthworms and bloodworms, mealworms, crickets, shrimp, and krill are good diets for both hatchlings and adults (adults will eat more fish than anything). Small crustaceans can also be offered to adults. After being acclimated to live food, hatchlings can be fed Reptomin turtle pellets as well. As adults, you may try to offer some assorted greens, but don’t fret if they turn away from the meal.

Supplements, Nutrition and Usage:

Calcium and vitamin supplements should be added to meal once a week.


Softshell turtles require the utmost in water quality; many keepers lose these turtles to poor water quality. Don’t be afraid to go overboard with the filtration system! Pump and canister filters work great, but must still be cleaned frequently, every two weeks. Change water every week as well. Sand has less maintenance then gravel, and should be cleared of debris every two weeks, but cleaned completely every few months. Softshell turtles thrive in slightly acidic conditions, with the pH level between 6.5-7.

Some Words on this Species:

Softshells make great display animals; however, they are not beginner pets at all (unless you get a male, but even so, they are difficult to keep). They require extreme filtration systems, special needs, and large enclosures. Their shells are easily damaged, and no rough surfaces should be included in their cage. They can be aggressive as adults, and they have a strong bite that can put you in stitches. Always handle them from the very back of the shell; even then, handling should be kept to a minimum. As hatchlings, some frequent handling will help the turtles to be calmer around you as adults. Still, do not get over confident, as that is when they get you. Novice keepers, beware of this turtle. Good luck and happy herping!
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The information contain in these care sheets represents only the opinions and husbandry care of members and therefore is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate or reflects the advice or opinions of It is always advised to seek additional information or the advice of a qualified veterinarian or qualified reptile dealer. It is also advisable for you to a good amount of research before implementing any of the ideas and care described in these care sheets. We also recommend you ask many questions in their related forums before acting on any information.

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