The Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) is a freshwater turtle with a leathery shell that is as proficient on land as it is in the water. The female species can nest two to seven times in a single season and reportedly produces nearly 225 eggs every year, an output that is more than almost any other species of reptile.
At CROW, an adult female Florida softshell turtle was admitted from Cape Coral after being hit by a car. During her intake exam, the turtle began laying eggs. In total, 24 eggs were laid. The eggs were placed in vermiculite to be incubated until they hatch.
“If the eggs are viable, they will incubate for a total of 60 to 80 days before hatching. Once they hatch, the baby softshell turtles are completely capable of fending for themselves. They get no support from their parents, but they know how to eat, swim and survive immediately,” said Breanna Frankel, CROW wildlife rehabilitation manager. “Not all the eggs will hatch at the same time, so we end up with small groups of turtles at various times towards the end of the incubation period. The babies only remain at the clinic until their yolk sac is completely absorbed, and we will typically release them in small groups as they are ready.”
In southern Florida, female adult turtles tend to leave the water to dig nesting holes in a sandy area during this time of year until July.
“Mother turtles can often be hit just as they are ready to lay eggs, either en route to a trusted nesting site or searching for a new, ideal nesting site. This was likely the case for this turtle,” said Dr. Lela Larned, CROW veterinary intern. “It does not happen commonly, but in the past three weeks, this turtle (was) one of three mothers in the midst of laying when admitted to the hospital for other injuries. On March 4, a common grackle that was ready to lay an egg was struck by a car and subsequently laid it while in our care. On February 28, we admitted a great egret that was also ready to lay an egg when she became entangled with fishing line in a tree.”
X-rays later revealed that one egg remained inside the Florida softshell turtle. She was provided with a suitable place to lay her remaining egg while she was being treated for superficial wounds and a minor bridge fracture.
“Sometimes, a female turtle needs a rest between laying eggs; other times a lingering egg is a sign of trouble such as internal injuries, exhaustion, pain and even electrolyte disturbance or dehydration,” said Dr. Larned. “The bridge is the part of the turtle’s shell that connects the carapace to the plastron. When a turtle experiences a high velocity impact, very often bridge fractures occur due to shearing forces. Unfortunately, bridge fractures often hint at the possibility that the turtle’s internal organs also experience trauma.”
Dr. Larned explained that simple shell fractures “can heal as quickly as six to eight weeks with orthopedic surgical intervention.” Sadly, fears of trauma within the body of the turtle were confirmed.
“Unfortunately, this turtle suffered internal injuries in addition to what appeared to be minor injuries on the surface and passed away just a few days after being admitted to the hospital,” she said.
CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.