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The Florida Soft Shell Turtle

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I live, presently, in an apartment complex in Central Florida. My unit faces an artificial pond. It’s somewhat polluted, sadly, but it still maintains a variety of life.

As an animal lover, I make sure to feed the various critters around my unit every day after I get off from work. There are the tall palm trees where the squirrels and several species of birds reside, and I offer them peanuts and sunflower seeds. There are a handful of wary ducks who I offer some slices of ripped-up bread. Unfortunately, they will not come and eat it until I am safely indoors. Apparently, they have a (probably wise) fear of humans.

And, now to the pond. There is a school of small fish that waits loyally for me each evening by the shore, and I reward them with bits of bread and crackers. They gobble this all up vigorously, leaving me to wonder just how they subsisted without me…

Well, while feeding my fishy friends the other day, I was shocked to see two serpentine figures coming directly towards me! At first blush, I was concerned that they might be some sort of poisonous water snake (Florida is not exactly bereft of poisonous reptiles…).

However, a moment later I realized what I had seen was merely the extended necks of two Florida Soft Shell Turtles!

These are magnificent creatures. (Sadly, some people view them as nothing more than dinner…) Unlike a lot of other indigenous turtles, these creatures (at least the female of the species) can grow to over two feet in shell-diameter!

The two I saw were at least 15 inches in diameter, indicating that both were likely female (males are rarely more than 12 inches).

While one was very skittish, even momentarily fleeing as I dropped chunks of bread into the water right near its protruding head, the other was quite friendly. It actually ate the bread right out of my hand!

Those who have no use for animals that aren’t charbroiled or filleted might not “get it.” But for an animal lover such as myself, this was a wonderful experience!

So, now I must add yet another creature to my list of animals I feel compelled to nourish. And that’s a GOOD thing! 🙂

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About RJ

  • Cpt. Willard

    Turtles are amazingly human acting. We have had an Eastern River Cooter for a little over a year now. She will eat out of my hand and displays some of the most humanistic behaviour I’ve ever seen coming from an animal. Our turtle comes from the North of Florida and parts of Virginia. She has lived in the U.K. since she was hatched, and we dont know how she actually got over here. But her company is great and it feels good to have another ex-pat around. We love looking after her, it’s the least we can do for nature and wildlife.

  • my neighbor used to feed the squirrels in his backyard. That is, until they moved into his attic!

    I’m more of the bird feeder/hummingbird feeder kinda guy. Not a big fan of squirrels.

    We have one of those small ponds at work and a pair of ducks have called it home. The female has been squatting on a single egg for a week or two now. Can’t wait to see what happens.

  • Fritz Patterson

    This morning around 10:00 I heard an insistant loud scratching at my front door. When I looked out the window I saw what seemed to be a large roundish animal trying to get in the door. It was upright and about 24″ tall. I went outside to investigate what seemed to be an animal in distress and found a large Fla. Soft-shell Turtle leaning against the wall still in an upright position.
    Fortunately my son and grandson were available to help relocate said friend to their turtle pen. If she has laid her eggs we were not able to find the nest. She will be returned to the canal tomorrow after the rain has let up.
    This is another friend to add to the black racer who entered my house and had to be relocated to the garden.
    What is it that makes all these creatures want to come inside for a visit?

  • please tell more about the soft shell turtle so i can finish my report


    By the book, kid, we have bills to pay.

  • Peggy

    We are a marina and have a lot of wild life around, but our favorite are the turtles. A couple of months ago we found a very tiny alligator snapping turtle. It is about an inch around now. It is so cute!! Today we found a soft shell turtle. It is about 2″ across. We saw a female early in the summer laying eggs and think this may be one of hers. We have then in an aquarium with lots of stuff for them. They seem to get along okay.

  • Sandy

    I will never discourage anyone from caring for an animal. However, I urge that the soft shell turtle be approached with extreme caution. This species is very fast and aggressive. As a teenager, I almost lost a finger to a soft shell turtle. The only thing that prevented the loss was the fact that I was wearing a wide band ring on my little finger. I still had to go to the emergency room for treatment, but it could have been much worse. Thankfully, the turtle was not rabid.

  • errr–only mammals are subject to rabies.

  • Sandy

    The turtle was tested. I didn’t question it. Maybe it was because it could have eaten something that was rabid? Either way, my finger as fractured and the skin pealed back. I don’t recommend playing with them unless you are very experienced.

  • You were lucky. We have snapping turtles here. They would have snapped your finger cleanly off. But for future reference (and I don’t doubt what you say) no way can a turtle transmit rabies.

  • sr

    It is a pleasure to read something of this nature.

    Thanks RJ.

  • Hal

    This is what the internet is at its best – civil conversations. Thank you very much. I am here visiting my uncle in central Florida. Yesterday we saw a very big turtle in the driveway. As he picked it up to move it to safety, a woman drove by and called out, “Be careful, they bite.” We just didn’t see how a turtle’s head could stretch all the way back to the hands that were holding it near its back legs. Also couldn’t identify it, so spent time looking on computer for info, which is why I came across your article. Thank you. Glad we didn’t know it could bite at the time. April 2008

  • Alan

    I saw a Softshell Turtle in the fairway while playing golf in the Sandesting resort over the weekend. I got a pretty good picture of it so I could look it up on the Internet after my round. I found your blog while trying to identify it. This was a very strange looking animal in my opinion. Its snout was so different than the typical beak on a turtle, and its body seemed to have no real form, like a blob with legs. Thanks to everyone for the great discussion.

  • Ann

    I found a large soft shell turtle in the middle of the road outside my home this afternoon. At first I couldn’t tell what it was — he or she had its neck out and up like a periscope. I waved off one car that looked like it was heading straight for it. I jumped out of the car and nudged it with my foot — like that would really make it skidaddle:) I ended up getting two old shirts out of the trunk of the car, wrapped my hands in them and carried the turtle across the street to the golf green and the nearby pond. I’m sure that’s where it was heading (or leaving).
    I really know very little about these turtles. Do they bite? I usually assume that animals will bite, especially when frightened. These turtles are impressive creatures.

  • Cindy

    I live in Port Saint Lucie and I just found one stuck up against the concrete near my front door. Had no idea what type of turtle it was other than some kind of water turtle(based on its flippers).
    Called animal control and the officer told us that it is a softshell turtle. I had never seen or heard of that type before. The snout was the strangest thing. The officer had never seen one that big on a call before and we aren’t that near water so he didn’t understand why the turtle was there.

  • Jon

    I rescued a softshell that was crossing Virginia Avenue eastbound near Indian River State College. Picked it up the way I usually do, from behind and hands midway along body. Didn’t know it was a softshell at the time. Got it to safety and looked around for a place to deposit it; when I looked back down, the turtle had its head out and was angling it backwards to take a bite out of me – no idea that a turtle’s neck could be that long! Quickly set it down and moved on. Will use more caution (and some really thick work gloves) next time.

  • Chris

    I rescued three soft shells crossing the road today here in Orlando. I wrapped some old shirts around my hands so as to not get scratched by the back claws. One of them did stick his head out a bit for a bite, but neglected to bite (probably because he was scared and being carried 4 ft. above the ground to a nearby pond). The smallest of the trio had some kind of a cataract, not sure what that was about. They were all in excess of 12 inches across. I was amazed with how fast they can crawl, though. I would definitely say they aren’t suited to be pets.

  • Rachel

    I rescued one today! Had I not taken time to save him, I would have been hit by the driver that ran the red light I would have been stopped at! Seems these guys are quite the good luck charm!!!

  • Meredith

    I rescued a large female Florida Softshell turtle today from the middle of the road at UCF. She was about 21 inches in diameter, and definitely the most aggressive turtle I’ve ever handled. Luckily I knew to watch out for her long neck, which can reach around and bite your fingers if you’re not careful. Their legs also kick hard and scratch. I recommend keeping heavy duty gloves in your car for rescuing turtles from the road, and hold them low to the ground while you transport them so if they wiggle free (as she did a few times) they won’t drop far and be injured. Also wash your hands afterwards to prevent the transmission of salmonella.
    On the subject of feeding ducks, though, bread is pretty nutrient poor (its like us eating chips all day). It’s especially unhealthy at parks, where they become dependent on humans feeding them, and all they eat is bread because its easy and available. Its much better to feed them chopped veggies, or shrimp, etc. Also, make sure they’re near a water source while feeding them, because the water prevents them from choking on food. If your feeding animals to be kind, do some research to make sure the food your giving them is actually beneficial!

  • andrew

    Used to live in Atlanta Ga, love to see softshells in rivers- ponds etc..occaisonally a florida soft— just got 2 baby florida’s– for my aquarium- -a little bit of the south y’all on the west coast

  • Udo

    Whooh, didn’t know a thing. Thought turtles are slow, go inside their shell to hide when in danger. saw a turtle crossing the ramp on a highway and figured might safe its life as she was obviously heading for hte highway and that would have been the end of it and probably an accident on topof it all if fast moving driver try to avoid it. So I did stop, picked it up and it did what I expected, pulled his head in and peaked at me fearfully. Sat it down on the floor in front of the passanger seat. and Off I go to the next pond nearby. then this thing sticks his neck out some 10-12 inches and takes a serious look at me. I motion it go back put your head back in, snap my finger and it obeyed. Not for long. and now it starts moving around and around. Well that thing was about to crawl on the seat and more. I kept it in check but wasn’t too impressed with my gestures and after all I was driving down a highway. So I found a big lake soon, lots around here in Florida, picked it up and this time no being quiet like at first and it struggles yet I get it near the lake and it sees the water and zing it goes so fast I was shocked. this was the same thing that slowly moved accross a street in the middle of traffic oblivious of the dangers. Into the water and dive and appear in the middle of the lake soon after. Boy are they fast. In any case I was like: ” What was that!!!!” So a bit of research on the net and it turns out having bean a Soft shell turtle and yes, they bite and can do some good damage and even bite fingers off. Little I knew. STill I feel good having saved a turtle life, prevented a possible accident and worse and in general seems like I did the right thing. The drivers around me were also nice acknowledging me for my ‘humanitarian’ efforts. thumbs up and all. So that was my turtle adventure. By far the biggest living thing saved by me. What will it be next?