Florida Softshell Turtle Comes Ashore

May 24, 2013 at 5:43 am (Georgia, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Photography, Wildlife) (, )

Florida softshell turtle with snorkel-like snout

Florida softshell turtle with snorkel-like snout

Yesterday was World Turtle Day and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge certainly has reason to celebrate its turtles (and tortoises.)  The Florida softshell turtle is an unusual member of a family known for its hard, protective shell.  Instead of hard keratin scutes (modified scales), its shell is leathery skin. You can see by the video that the shell flaps as the turtle walks.

Using my best guess of turtle anatomy and behavior, I will say this is a female come ashore to lay her eggs in soft sandy soil.  She was fairly large, far from water, and her tail is short (male tails are longer.) A herpetologist can set me straight if I’m wrong.

We did watch a very large female softshell lay eggs in a patch of sand in the boat basin construction zone near the visitor center a few weeks ago.  We roped it off in hopes that it would be given some TLC, and crossed our fingers that the raccoons and other predators would not dig up the tasty morsels.

Female Florida Softshell Turtle laying eggs, Okefenokee NWR, GA

Female Florida Softshell Turtle laying eggs, Okefenokee NWR, GA – USFWS photo by Cindy McIntyre

These “pancake” turtles often bury themselves in the mud and snatch at whatever swims by.  Their snorkel-like noses are often the only things you’ll see poking out of the water, and they also have the unusual ability to “breathe” underwater.  To quote from the National Zoo’s website:  “Softshell turtles are capable of pharyngeal breathing. This means they can bypass lung breathing by taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide through a membrane that lines the throat, creating a direct gas exchange within the water. There is also some limited oxygen exchange through the skin.”

While each clutch in a nest may have one or two dozen eggs, the female can lay several nests in a season.  So happy Turtle Day to all of Okefenokee’s shelled reptiles!

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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