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Chinese Soft-Shelled Turtle Fact File

Pelodiscus sinensis

Credit: Pauline Carmel Joy Eje, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

Insufficient

Data

Length

15-30cm

(6-12in)

Lifespan

Wild 30 years

Captive 30 years

Diet

Carnivore

Frogs, Insects, Fish

Conservation Status

IUCN

Vulnerable

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are found in Asia where they will make their home in a freshwater river system with a sandy or mud bottom for them to rest among.

Their name is taken from the soft plate across the back. They lack the traditional scutes of most turtles and as such their shell provides little protection against attack. Instead they mainly use their mouth for defense.

These reptiles are voracious feeders seeking out any animal prey on which they can feed. Prey taken by the species may include frogs, insects, fish and more. Foraging takes place at night.

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are the main species raised in turtle farms across Asia for use in food and medicines. They are also collected from the wild for this trade.

Read on to learn more about these terrific turtles.

Appearance

What does the Chinese soft-shelled turtle look like?

As their name suggests the Chinese soft-shelled turtle features a flat, soft rubbery shell on its back. Due to lacking the strong plate like shell the Chinese soft-shelled turtle is unable to use its shell for defense in any meaningful way.

The flexibility of their shell helps them to move easier across the bottom of the rivers they inhabit.

Their soft shell is colored olive with dark blotches across it. The underside of the shell is orange-red with more dark blotches. Their limbs and head are colored olive on top with light forearms and hind-limbs orange-red.

Unlike most other turtle species they are unable to fully retract the head in to the shell.

The tip of the nose features a long snout. This adaptation acts like a snorkel to allow them to breathe when under water. Using this snorkel the Chinese soft-shelled turtle can remain underwater while still breathing.

Their feet are webbed to assist them with swimming.

Albino individuals of this species have been recorded.

An average Chinese soft-shelled turtle measures 15-30cm (6-12in) long. Males tend to be smaller than females but not markedly so.

Diet

What does the Chinese soft-shelled turtle eat?


Chinese soft-shelled turtles are carnivores. They are a generalist with their diet feeding on almost anything they come across. This may include invertebrates, fish and frogs.

Seeds of marsh plants are occasionally recorded in the stomachs of the Chinese soft-shelled turtle.

Foraging occurs at night and most of their food is found while walking along the riverbed.

Chinese soft-shelled turtle

Credit: Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Range

Where can you find the Chinese soft-shelled turtle?

Asia is the native home of the Chinese soft-shelled turtle. As their named suggests they are found naturally in China along with Japan and Viet Nam.

Introduced populations of the species can be found in Thailand and the United States.

In the United States these introduced populations can be found in Guam, Hawaii and on the mainland along the east coast.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the Chinese soft-shelled turtle live in?

These animals are found in freshwater systems. They make use of rivers, lakes, ponds and man-made reservoirs. They choose spots with sandy or mud bottoms that they can rest among.

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Reproduction

How does the Chinese soft-shelled turtle produce its young?

Breeding season for the Chinese soft-shelled turtle lasts from March to September. Mating occurs within the water.

During mating the male will hold on to the female using his forelimbs or by biting the head, neck and limbs.

Females have the ability to retain sperm to fertilize their eggs for as long as a year.

Between 2 and 5 clutches can be laid by a female each year. These include between 8 and 30 eggs each. Their eggs have a spherical shape and are deposited in to soft soil.

These eggs incubate for an average 60 days though the exact length is dependent on the temperature at which its undertaken.

Sexual maturity is reached between 4 and 6 years old.

Behavior

What does the Chinese soft-shelled turtle do with its day?

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are considered nocturnal and will emerge at night to hunt for their prey.

Occasionally a Chinese soft-shelled turtle will bask on stones outside of the water. If threatened they will quickly return to the water.

When at rest these animals will sit among the sand or mud at the bottom of the water course they inhabit. Their head is lifted to breathe or to snatch at prey.

These turtles have a rare adaptation allowing them to absorb oxygen through the skin and throat lining while fully submerged in water.

Chinese soft-shelled turtle

Credit: Monika Korzeniec, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the Chinese soft-shelled turtle?

The primary method of defense for the Chinese soft-shelled turtle is their strong bite which can subdue most predators.

Populations of the Chinese soft-shelled turtle are believed to be declining.

Along with helping to regulate their body temperature basking behaviors will also help to rid the Chinese soft-shelled turtles body of parasites.

Around the shell they have pores from which they can emit a foul smelling liquid.

Humans exploit the Chinese soft-shelled turtle for food. Farms have been established which produce several million each year but wild populations are still targeted both for food and founder stock for new farms.

Small numbers are also kept in the pet trade despite challenges with their upkeep.

Quick facts

Chinese soft-shelled turtles were first described for western science in 1836 by Arend Friedrich August Wiegmann.

These animals have a unique ability to excrete urea from the mouth. This helps them to reduce the water loss which comes with urinating.

Chinese soft-shelled turtle

Credit: Public Domain

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

All Turtles. 2021. Chinese Softshell Turtle (Pelodiscus Sinensis). [online] Available at: <https://www.allturtles.com/chinese-softshell-turtle/> [Accessed 18 September 2021].

Thai National Parks. 2021. Pelodiscus sinensis, Chinese softshell turtle. [online] Available at: <https://www.thainationalparks.com/species/chinese-softshell-turtle> [Accessed 18 September 2021].

Somma, L.A., and J.A. Freedman, 2021, Pelodiscus sinensis (Wiegmann, 1835): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=1278, Revision Date: 9/12/2019, Access Date: 9/18/2021

Fws.gov. 2021. Chinese Softshell Turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis). [online] Available at: <https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/ans/erss/uncertainrisk/ERSS-Pelodiscus-sinensis-final-April2018.pdf> [Accessed 18 September 2021].

The Jungle Zoo. 2021. Chinese Soft-Shelled Turtle. [online] Available at: <https://www.thejunglezoo.co.uk/chinesesoftshelledturtle> [Accessed 18 September 2021].

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