Florida Softshell Turtle

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio
fast facts

About Florida Softshell Turtle

30+ years
Commercial turtle diet, small fish, insects, non-toxic aquatic plants
Difficulty Of Care
High Maintenance
Comparable Breeds
Spiny Softshell Turtle, Smooth Softshell Turtle
Florida Softshell Turtle General Info

The Florida Softshell Turtle, like other Softshell Turtles, are unique and attractive animals that many pet owners seek when they want to add a turtle to their family. But because of their care requirements and personality, these turtles are best suited to experienced turtle owners.

These turtles are powerful swimmers that need deep water, and they also grow quite large, so you will need to be sure you have the space for these pets before bringing one home.

The Florida Softshell Turtle is best suited to experienced turtle owners.

Native Habitat

You can find the Florida Softshell Turtle throughout Florida, as well as north into the Coastal Plain of the state of Georgia and the southern portion of South Carolina. You can also find these turtles west to Mobile Bay in Alabama.

These turtles are naturally found in large lakes like Okeechobee, large karst springs and slow-moving river channels that have plenty of vegetation, and big sinkhole ponds. You can also sometimes find these turtles in seasonal ponds.

Overall Description

The Florida Softshell Turtle is the biggest of all of the North American Softshell Turtles. Females can grow as large as 24”, while males will be about half the size of females, growing to about 12”.

The shell of a Florida Softshell Turtle will be smooth, as well as soft along the edge. The shell is covered in leathery skin. This is living tissue, and it is sensitive and vulnerable to infections and injuries.

The Florida Softshell Turtle is the biggest of all of the North American Softshell Turtles.


Adult Florida Softshell Turtles will usually be a dark brownish-green color, although they can also feature tan shells. The shells and their skin can feature blotches as well.


Florida Softshell Turtles will only bask occasionally, and they will usually do so while they float upon aquatic plants or while they are partially under the water as they extend the rest of their body on a basking site. The best type of basking area for this turtle is not abrasive, so avoid concrete and sandstone rocks, as you don’t want to irritate the plastron. Whatever basking platform you choose to use, whether it’s natural or artificial, just make sure that it’s in a stable position and on an angle, reaching to the bottom of the tank. In this way, your turtle can easily move up the platform and choose whether to come out completely to bask or stay partially submerged.

To keep your Florida Softshell Turtle healthy for many years, you need to focus on creating an environment that will provide him with filtered freshwater at all times. A high quality filter is a must, and you should stick with a sand substrate rather than rocks that would be abrasive to this turtle’s sensitive body. You will find your turtle digging into the substrate, so it should be deep enough for your pet to burrow.

Because these turtles are such strong swimmers, they do well in enclosures that have deep water. The water temperature should be maintained anywhere from 70-80°F with the help of a high quality water heater.

Maintain the air temperature of your turtle’s enclosure anywhere from 75-85°F. The basking area, however, should be warmer at around 90°F. Temperatures in your turtle’s enclosure can drop roughly 5° overnight, and you can let it drop an additional 5° in the winter.

If you want, you can provide a hiding spot underwater for your turtle, provided that it will be safe enough that your pet won’t get trapped. Remember, these turtles are strong swimmers, so secure any underwater structures to keep them in place if your pet knocks into them.

In terms of tank size, this turtle should have 5-10 gallons of water for every inch that his carapace is long. This is the minimum, so you can certainly go larger. An average adult Florida Softshell Turtle might require a 200-gallon tank, so you should have plenty of space for this pet to thrive.

It is important to know that the Florida Softshell Turtle could exhibit aggressive behavior.

Care Requirements

Because Florida Softshell Turtles are carnivorous, their diet in the wild will include snails, amphibians, fish, insects, and crustaceans. They will also consume algae and aquatic plants, and they will scavenge as well as hunt. You can even find them burrowing into mud located near a shore or bank so that they can then extend their snouts to the surface in anticipation of small crustaceans, fish, and frogs.

You can feed your turtle some minnows and small fish, including mosquitofish. However, you can also provide your pet with a commercial pellet diet to ensure all of his nutrient requirements will be met. Just be aware that these animals are more attracted to live food, so you should use both types of food.


It is important to know that the Florida Softshell Turtle could exhibit aggressive behavior. Even when housed with other Softshell Turtles, they can injure each other, so it is best that they be housed alone. Also, these turtles should only be handled when absolutely necessary.

Photo credit: abracadabra99/Bigstock; Bob G 1000/Bigstock; zixian/Bigstock

Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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