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Softshell Turtles: Trionychidae

Behavior And Reproduction

For the most part, these turtles remain hidden for much of the day. They fall to the bottom of the lake, pond, or other watering hole where they live and wiggle their bodies back and forth until they are buried. When they move about in the water, they are excellent swimmers. Many species sunbathe, or bask, to warm their bodies. Some spend several hours a day basking on logs that stick up out of the water or on the shoreline, but they typically dash back into the water at even the slightest disturbance. Some prefer to sunbathe by simply floating in the top layer of water. They can breathe through the nose, but they can also get oxygen directly from the water, so they can stay below the surface for long periods of time. Those that live in colder areas enter a state of deep sleep, or hibernation (high-bur-NAY-shun), in the winter. During this period, which may last several months, they bury themselves in the sand or mud at the water bottom to wait for spring and warmer temperatures to come.


Some species of softshell turtles have flaps near the hind legs that they can use to shield themselves from the glaring sun during dry spells. One species, called the Indian flapshell turtle, buries itself in the mud, pulls its legs inside its shell, covers up the hind legs with the flaps, and stays inside the shell in a state of deep sleep until the rains come. This period of deep sleep, which can last up to 160 days in this turtle, is called estivation (es-tih-VAY-shun). Estivation is similar to the inactive period known as hibernation (high-bur-NAY-shun), but hibernation occurs over the wintertime.

Softshell turtles usually mate each spring, although females can actually mate one year and have young from that single mating for several years. In some species, the male attracts the female by rubbing his chin on her carapace and bobbing his head at her. The female lays her round eggs in sandy, dry spots on shore. Depending on the species, a female may lay three to one hundred eggs at a time and have more than one clutch a year. The nests contain both male and female hatchlings, regardless of the nest temperature. In many other turtles, nest temperature controls the number of eggs that become male or female, but this is not known to occur in softshell turtles.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesSoftshell Turtles: Trionychidae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Spiny Softshell (apalone Spinifera): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET, SOFTSHELL TURTLES AND PEOPLE