Spring Break 2018: No Privacy for the Softshell

Apalone ferox, the Florida softshell turtle;
Miami-Dade county, Florida (18 March 2018).
Series: Spring Break 2018.

The latter portion of our Spring Break 2018 romp was spent in the Coral Gables / South Miami area for the this year’s Anolis Symposium — held at the most magnificent and beautiful Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables. Though Fairchild’s flora may be the main draw for most folks, Fairchild is also quite remarkable in light of its fauna — native and non-native alike. We’ll check out a decent sampling of lizards from the 2018 Anolis Symposium at Fairchild in future posts, but right now let’s briefly consider a different kind of reptile — the Florida softshell turtle, Apalone ferox.

Rather than tromping around in a hardened mobile-home dome of a carapace, softshell turtles have softer, fleshier carapaces. Extremely aquatic, they don’t come out on land too often. When they do, it’s usually to bask, to mate, or to nest. The latter was the case for the Florida softshell featured on  this post. She was trying to find a place to nest and lay eggs in the fresh mulch on Fairchild grounds — a pleasant delight for the visitors (myself included), but probably less than delightful from her perspective. As the crowd of onlookers grew (how could it not?), she seemed a bit anxious to get on with her business. I actually left this area after snapping a few quick shots, hoping others might do the same on her behalf. I’m not sure if she ultimately nested in the mulch or moved on to find a better, more secretive location.

Whereas male Florida softshells only reach an average “shell” length of a foot or so, female Florida softshells are typically much larger; they can range upwards to two feet in length. That’s a pretty decent chunk of turtle, right? What’s more, softshells can actually move very fast on dry land. It can be surprising, actually, when they bolt across the land to retreat to the water. Imagine a two-foot softshell turtle burning tread, so to speak, to the waterline. Finally, in the top image, you can see the reach of the Florida softshell’s neck. When they want to peek up and out, they can really peek up and out. This is, as you might imagine, quite advantageous for the turtle when its in the water. They’re pretty good at hiding in plain sight — just under the water’s surface. Unfortunately, however, on land they sort of stick out. This nesting female certainly did.

I hope she eventually found her nesting spot!


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