What do you feed a baby soft shell turtle

Soft Shelled Turtle Care Sheet

Download Soft-Shelled Turtle Care Sheet 

Our Turtle & Tortoise Care Sheets are meant as a general guideline to caring for your Turtle/Tortoise. Every specific species requires its own unique care - while many species are overlapping and can be kept with other species that have similar needs. For even more details about the needs of a specific species or for ideas about which different species will go well together (many do), please contact us. Thank you!


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Soft-shelled turtles make great display animals. Though they may bury in the sand, they are quick, alert, and many are graceful swimmers. A big display tank with Spiny, Smooth, or Florida Soft-shelled turtles is hard to beat for entertainment value.


Soft-shelled turtle species are found throughout most of North America (Apalone), Africa (Trionyx), Asia (Amyda, Aspideretes, Chitra, Dogania, Palea, Pelodiscus and Rafetus), and New Guinea (Chitra and Pelochelys). Spiny, Smooth, and Florida Soft-shells are commonly available in the pet trade. Most of the other species are quite rare or just get too big for most hobbyists.


Spiny and Smooth Soft-shells usually grow to 14 inches and Florida Soft-shells can grow up to 24 inches or larger.


Hatchling soft-shelled turtles are probably the most sensitive turtles in captivity with regards to their captive care. They can be set up in 20-gallon long aquariums similar to other hatchlings, but they must be offered water of highest quality. This water should be free of chlorine, slightly acidic, filtered, and oxygenated. They should be kept warm (70s F) by a submersible aquarium heater or an under-tank heater. Add a substrate of clean, washed river sand and add lots of driftwood and live plants to enhance their environment. Add a variety of small fish such as guppies, platies, and mosquito fish. Feed them live invertebrates such as redworms, earthworms, and black worms once or twice a week. Most species will begin taking a pelleted aquatic turtle food quite soon after acclimating and feeding on live prey. We have found Reptomin® floating sticks to be especially appealing to young soft-shelled turtles.

Hatchling soft-shelled turtles are probably the most sensitive turtles in captivity with regards to their captive care. They can be set up in 20-gallon long aquariums similar to other hatchlings, but they must be offered water of highest quality. This water should be free of chlorine, slightly acidic, filtered, and oxygenated. They should be kept warm (70s F) by a submersible aquarium heater or an under-tank heater. Add a substrate of clean, washed river sand and add lots of driftwood and live plants to enhance their environment. Add a variety of small fish such as guppies, platies, and mosquito fish. Feed them live invertebrates such as redworms, earthworms, and black worms once or twice a week. Most species will begin taking a pelleted aquatic turtle food quite soon after acclimating and feeding on live prey. We have found Reptomin® floating sticks to be especially appealing to young soft-shelled turtles.

Successfully keeping soft-shelled turtles is very difficult... They require a soft, sandy substrate and ultra-clean water. Soft-shelled turtles spend a great deal of time buried in the sandy bottoms of rivers and therefore enjoy this activity in captivity. Use of the finest grade of sandblasting sand or thoroughly rinsed play or river sand is recommended. Larger grade sand and pebbles can abrade their soft plastrons and lead to sores and infections.

Most species of soft-shelled turtles will have to be kept individually or in small groups spread out in a large, creatively designed enclosure. If you overcrowd soft-shelled turtles, you are asking for trouble.

For soft-shelled turtles, don’t be afraid to go overboard on the filtration! Large enclosures with water in the 72-75° F (22-25° C) range and in the neutral to slightly acidic (6.5 to 7.0) pH range are great for all North American species and most of the exotic species. (At the bottom of the deep rivers where many of these turtles live, the water is quite cool, even in hot, tropical climates.) The addition of live aquatic plants will make the enclosure more interesting and they will also help "acclimate" the water and add oxygen to the system. Most small to medium specimens of soft-shelled turtles, especially North American species, will bask if given the appropriate area. Sand banks and large fallen trees are used in the wild, but most will crawl onto a piece of driftwood or slate (or even a mat of floating aquatic plants) if these are all that are available. Again, be careful to build a system that prevents abrasions or injuries to the turtles’ shells.

Many soft-shelled turtle species are found in brackish (salty) water in nature, especially Florida Soft-shells. Salt inhibits the growth of fungus and certain bacteria. Therefore, the addition of salt can be beneficial to keeping them healthy.


Soft-shelled turtles are carnivores. They feed readily on fish (avoid carp and catfish), worms, crickets, pink mice, crayfish, and shrimp. Once acclimated, most soft-shelled turtles will eagerly accept floating commercial diets, but the key is a "balanced" diet!


Scratches or scrapes can easily become infected if soft-shelled turtles are kept in enclosures with poor water quality. Prepare their cage furnishings carefully and thoughtfully. Use a couple of tablespoons of sea salt or aquarium salt per gallon of water and keep some Acriflavine and Silvadene® cream on hand for emergencies. Be careful. Many tropical fish keepers using Acriflavine suggest treating animals with an accompanying rise in the water temperature. Warm water temperatures in the suggested 85-88° F range can be deadly to soft-shelled turtles!

Silvadene® is an antibiotic cream formulated for use with human burn victims. It requires a physician's prescription, but is an important part of a turtle keeper's arsenal of tools. It has proven very effective in treating sores and shell problems in both soft-shelled and hard-shelled turtles.

Betadine (iodine) is toxic to some soft-shelled turtles, especially members of the genus Aspideretes. To be safe, we do not use iodine-containing products with any of our soft-shelled turtles.

Spiny Soft-shelled Turtles

Spiny Soft-shelled Turtles (Apalone spinifera). As the name suggests, these turtles have many spiny processes on the anterior of the carapace. There are seven subspecies of A. spinifera ranging from Canada to Mexico and as far west as California.

Smooth Soft-shelled Turtles

Smooth Soft-shelled Turtles (Apalone mutica) have smooth carapaces and lack the spiny processes seen in A. spinifera. They are beautifully marked with vermiculations and large spots. They are found from Minnesota south to Florida and west to Texas and New Mexico.

Florida Soft-shelled Turtles

The Florida Soft-shelled Turtle (Apalone ferox) is a large species (females to 20 inches, males smaller) that is quite prolific. A large female can lay two clutches each year totaling as many as 70 eggs.


  • Wikipedia – Soft-Shelled Turtles
  • Ernst, C. H., J. E. Lovich, and R. W. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada, Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Gurley, R. 2003. Keeping and Breeding Freshwater Turtles. Living Art publishing. Ada, Oklahoma.
  • Gurley, R. 2005. Turtles in Captivity. ECO Herpetological Publishing and Distribution. Lansing, Michigan.
  • Korolev, A. V., S. V. Kudrayavtsev, and V. E. Frolov. 1983. Some special aspects of the husbandry of soft-shell turtles (Reptilia, Testudinae, Trionichidae) at the Moscow Zoo. 7th Annual Reptile Symposium on Captive Reproduction & Husbandry, Dallas, TX, p. 54-58.
  • Plummer, M. V. 1977. Notes on the courtship and mating behavior of the softshell turtle, Trionyx muticus (Reptilia, Testudines, Trionychidae). J. Herp. 11: 90-92.
  • Pritchard, P. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. TFH, Inc. Neptune, New Jersey.

A Guide to Caring for Softshell Turtles as Pets

If you're interested in an aquatic pet that's a little out of the ordinary, consider a softshell turtle. As the name suggests, these strange-looking turtles lack the one characteristic almost all turtles share: a hard shell. This makes them more susceptible to attacks in the wild. But unlike their fellow turtles, softshells can move quickly on land. This family of turtles is native to parts of Africa, Asia, and North America. In places where turtle soup is a regular menu item, it's likely that softshell turtle meat is part of the recipe. But if they can avoid the stew pot and the occasional alligator, softshell turtles can be intriguing pets for the right owner. These turtles are more for watching than for handling as pets. And they do require some effort to get their housing setup correct. But once you establish a routine, their agile swimming and other antics can entertain you for many years.

Species Overview

Common Names: Softshell turtle, smooth softshell turtle, Florida softshell turtle, spiny softshell turtle

Scientific Names: Apalone mutica, Apalone spinifera, Apalone ferox

Adult Size: Up to 14 inches long for Apalone mutica and Apalone spinifera; over 2 feet long for Apalone ferox

Life Expectancy: 25 years or more

Softshell Turtle Behavior and Temperament

These turtles are foragers in the wild and prefer to submerge themselves in mud when on land. Because they are vulnerable to predators due to their lack of a shell, softshell turtles can be aggressive. It's not a good idea to house pairs of them together because they'll likely attack each other. They have sharp claws and strong jaws that can do serious damage. Likewise, these turtles generally don't like being handled and aren't timid about attacking a person if they feel threatened.

Furthermore, don't plan to have a softshell turtle as a pet in a home with a small child due to their aggressive nature. Plus, curious dogs, cats, and other pets can do serious damage to a softshell turtle and also might be injured in the process.

Female softshell turtles get to be much larger than the males, so owners must be prepared to find them a sufficiently large enclosure. That large enclosure also requires a moderate amount of care to keep it clean and properly heated, so this isn't a low-maintenance pet.

Housing the Softshell Turtle

The kind of softshell turtle you choose will determine the size of tank you need. For instance, the Florida softshell turtle can weigh over 40 pounds and reach over 2 feet long, requiring a large area to swim. At roughly half that size, the spiny and smooth softshell turtles are more manageable as pets. They can be kept in a large aquarium that's at least 75 to 100 gallons.

The water must be kept very clean, and there should be nothing sharp or rough that could cause a wound on your softshell turtle in that tank. Canister filters, submersible filters, and other efficient filtration systems should be utilized to prevent bacterial and fungal infections. Moreover, provide driftwood or a floating island to allow your turtle to leave the water and bask when necessary. And include live aquatic plants if possible.


Most softshells do well in enclosures that are kept at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Water heaters designed for fish, as well as reptile heat lights, can be utilized to maintain an optimal temperature. A basking lamp around 90 degrees Fahrenheit is usually ideal.


UVB lighting is recommended in addition to heat lights to allow the turtle to metabolize calcium. These lights should be kept on for around 10 to 12 hours per day to mimic a natural day-night cycle, and they should not be blocked by any glass or plastic. The bulbs typically should be changed every six to nine months, following the manufacturer's recommendations.


In the wild, softshell turtles love to bury themselves in the sand and mud. Provide clean play sand at the bottom of their tank to encourage this natural behavior. Don't use harsh substrates, such as gravel, which can hurt the turtle's fragile body.

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Food and Water

Softshell turtles eat a variety of insects, amphibians, eggs, and fish in the wild. In captivity, they are also primarily carnivores but will adapt to eating floating turtle pellets. Fish, gut-loaded crickets (crickets fed nutritious foods that then pass to your pet), worms, and other readily available prey items are typically offered to pet softshell turtles.

Larger softshell turtles will even eat pinky mice and small amphibians, such as frogs. You should always place the food in the water and let your turtle eat without having to get out of its pool. In general, feed adults once daily as much as they can consume in 15 minutes. But check with your veterinarian about the quantity and timing of the feedings for your turtle's age and size. They do not need a separate water dish.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

In the wild, softshell turtles are a favorite meal for alligators. And even in captivity, these turtles are much more vulnerable to injury than other pet turtles because they lack a hard shell. Wounds and consequent infections are common in softshell turtles, along with ear infections and intestinal parasites.

Annual checkups with a veterinarian who specializes in exotic pets are recommended. Opt for a fecal exam to check for parasites, which can wreak havoc on a turtle's immune system and overall health. Along with routine vet care, proper tank setup and water quality are key to keeping a healthy softshell turtle.

Choosing Your Softshell Turtle

Because of their complex care needs, softshell turtles usually aren't recommended for beginners. If you think a softshell turtle is a good fit for you, get your turtle from a reputable breeder or rescue organization that can provide information on its origin and health. Expect to pay between $50 and $150 on average.

Look for a turtle that is alert, moves quickly, and does not appear lethargic. (Remember, these animals move faster than many other turtle species.) Any scaliness or cuts on the turtle's shell might indicate a turtle that has suffered an injury, which could mean it has other less obvious health issues as well. Moreover, its eyes should be clear and free of any mucus or crustiness.

10 Types of Turtles That Make Great Pets

Similar Species to the Softshell Turtle

If you’re interested in similar pets, check out:

Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your new pet.

Soft shell of a red-eared turtle, what to do, how to treat it

Red-eared turtles are aquarium animals, which, despite their unpretentiousness, sometimes get sick. A sign that a turtle is unwell is a soft shell. A similar symptom most often indicates rickets, to which this type of amphibian is especially susceptible.


  • 1 When is it normal for a red-eared slider to have a soft shell?
  • 2 Soft shell - a symptom of a lack of calcium and vitamin D3
  • 3 How to cure a pet?
  • 4 Preventive measures

When is it normal for a red-eared slider to have a soft shell?

But the soft shell is not always an alarming symptom. In small turtles under the age of 1 year, it should be so. These animals are born with a soft shell that hardens over time. By the 12th month of life, their "armor" becomes quite strong and hard.

Soft shell - a symptom of calcium and vitamin D3 deficiency

Often, the presence of a softened shell in an amphibian is accompanied by some other symptoms: redness of the eyes, the appearance of small tubercles and swellings on the protective shell, increased body temperature, bends in the edges of the shell.

The above symptoms may be the result of many diseases, namely, abnormal thyroid gland, intestinal dysfunction. The hardness of the turtle shell is directly affected by the amount of calcium that circulates in the animal's body. It is with a lack of this element that deformation of the shell and other symptoms occur. A turtle in this condition should not be left untreated, otherwise, over time, the bones of the skull will deform in it, and the animal will not be able to eat normally.

Calcium deficiency can be caused by a malfunction in the intestines or kidneys, as a result of which the rate of absorption of calcium in the body of an amphibian is significantly reduced. Lack of ultraviolet radiation and, as a result, vitamin D deficiency can also lead to softening of the pet's shell.

How to cure a pet?

If your turtle shows these symptoms, you can try to take some measures yourself. In summer and warm spring, a pet can be taken out in an aquarium to a balcony or outside and placed in the sun. At the same time, it is important that direct sunlight does not fall directly on the animal, but illuminates the aquarium well.

In cloudy seasons, in autumn and winter, the aquarium with a turtle should be placed under an ultraviolet lamp for a while, having previously sealed the turtle's eyes with a plaster. This is necessary so that the radiation and bright light do not damage the organs of vision.

The turtle's diet should be reviewed: multivitamin complexes containing vitamin D and calcium can be added to it. Shrimp can be a natural source of calcium for turtles. Hard-shelled mollusks or minced fish with bones should be added to the animal's diet.

But if the disease is in an advanced form or the measures taken have not brought the desired result, then the amphibian should be taken to the veterinarian. The doctor will conduct a course of injections with vitamin complexes and the condition and appearance of the red-eared turtle will improve significantly.

Preventive measures

The best way to prevent the development of a disease is to prevent it. To prevent the softening of the shell in the red-eared turtle, it is necessary to sunbathe the animal several times a week. A good way to prevent calcium deficiency is to add crushed eggshells to the turtle's daily food several times a week. In winter, when the days outside are cloudy, the turtle needs to be given a solution of vitamin D-3. 3 drops of vitamin D for an adult turtle 2 times a month will completely prevent the development of rickets. A vitamin injection can be made into lumps of food or injected into the animal's mouth using a medical syringe.

Following the above recommendations is an easy way to keep your turtle healthy. However, if the softening of the shell has already begun, the necessary measures should be taken. After all, rickets, softening of the shell can lead to the death of the animal.


Soft Turtle Shell: Why and What to Do

Library / Reptiles / Treatment / The turtle has a soft shell: what to do?

In a sense, the shell is the main indicator of the health of a turtle: any change in color, shape or damage to the shell is a good reason to see a veterinarian.

The elasticity and relative fragility of the shell is observed in young turtles under the age of one year. In this case, you don’t need to do anything, it’s enough to follow the feeding regimen and choose a complete diet, after 12 months the turtle “armor” will begin to harden. If the individual is already an adult, a soft shell is a sign of a disease: rickets, dysfunction of the digestive tract, hypothyroidism, kidney failure - only a veterinarian can make a diagnosis.

Rickets is the most common, it is accompanied by hyperemia of the mucous membranes of the eyes, temperature, the appearance of bumps and characteristic bends along the edges of the shell shield. With light pressure, the shell bends, pits may remain on it, with further deformation it takes the form of a saddle or dome. If the disease is started, the appearance of the turtle begins to change: the deformation of the head, the upper jaw in shape more and more begins to resemble a “beak”, the pet refuses to eat. If you start the disease, stratification will begin. The bones in the limbs also soften, so fractures in sick turtles are not uncommon.

What if the turtle has a soft shell?

Review the animal's diet: it should be varied. You can not limit yourself to plant food, turtles eat meat, fish, and insects - this is necessary for their health. The terrarium must have an ultraviolet lamp. If possible, take the animal out for walks in the sun. Are your eyes inflamed and reacting to the sun? - you can drip an oily solution of vitamin A into them or simply tie them with a cloth. Please note: the lamp should not be close to the turtle (the optimal distance is 30-35 centimeters), otherwise the pet may get burns, the exposure time is 30-40 minutes.

Include in-shell clams shrimp, cuttlefish scutellum, bone meal or crushed eggshells, multivitamin D, calcium supplements (ReptiCal, Repti Life, Calphos, Calfon, calcium sulfate or phosphate) in your diet. In winter, when there is a minimum of sunlight in the apartment, you need to give a solution of vitamin D3: adult turtles 2-3 drops every 3-4 weeks, small ones - 1 drop each.

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