Spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera)

Species Status: Threatened in Canada
Action Required: Headstarting, nest protection

With nicknames like “pig-nosed rubber-backed turtle” and “pancake turtle,” this species is truly one of a kind. Unfortunately, the sandy areas it needs to lay its eggs often double as hotspots for developers, beachgoers and recreational boaters, jeopardizing the future of spiny softshell turtles in Canada.

This distinctive freshwater turtle owes its name to a flexible shell with inconspicuous spiny projections along the front edge. It also boasts a long snout that acts as a snorkel. Spiny softshell turtles feed on crayfish, molluscs, fish, amphibians and vegetation. They are highly aquatic and can stay underwater for up to five hours, getting nearly half the oxygen they need by breathing through their skin.

Spiny softshell turtles live in lakes and large rivers with soft bottoms. They rarely venture far from water, but you may see them sunning themselves on beaches, sandbars, logs and rocks. They need gravelly or sandy areas for nesting and deep water for hibernating.

While these turtles were once widely distributed in Canada, today only two subpopulations remain: one in Ontario and one in Quebec. In Ontario, they are found in the southwest corner of the province, clustered around breeding sites near the Thames and Sydenham rivers and on Lake Erie. The other subpopulation is found along the Quebec/Ontario border in the Ottawa River and Lake Champlain region. At last count there were fewer than 1,000 spiny softshell turtles in Ontario and fewer than 100 individuals in Quebec.

Due to shoreline development and agricultural activity, spiny softshell turtles have faced significant habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. This species is easily disturbed during nesting, so recreational use of nesting beaches can reduce nesting success. Nests are vulnerable to human-subsidized predators, such as raccoons, whose numbers are artificially inflated by access to human garbage, crops and other food sources. Other threats include environmental contamination, boat propellers and fishing gear that can cause injuries or death.

Recommended Recovery Actions

The proposed federal Recovery Strategy for the spiny softshell turtle includes conserving habitat, reducing adult deaths and injuries, implementing headstarting programs in key areas, and monitoring populations.

What we are doing

Find out how Wildlife Preservation Canada helps save Canada’s reptiles and amphibians, including spiny softshell turtles, and how you can make a difference.