The Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) is the largest species of softshell turtle in the country. This turtle has an elongated head, a long snorkel-like nose and large webbed feet, each sporting three claws.
Unlike hard shell turtles, the Florida softshell turtle has a cartilaginous carapace, which means its upper shell is covered in leathery skin that some say resembles a pancake. This skin color is olive green to dark brown – a pattern that serves as a form of camouflage to conceal turtles from potential predators.
Florida softshell hatchlings have a lighter carapace color with yellow and orange markings. These colors fade and are lost as the juvenile ages into an adult.
At CROW, the clinic has seen an influx of pregnant Florida softshell turtles, including some that were involved in accidents.
“We’ve had softshell turtles come in gravid for the past several months and have had hatchlings on and off since mid-spring,” said CROW Rehabilitation Manager Breanna Frankel.
On September 21, a clutch of Florida softshell turtle eggs began to hatch after incubating for several months. A total of 19 eggs hatched, but their mother did not make it.
“Mom was a patient that suffered severe trauma after being hit by a car. She had severe sinus, jaw and shell fractures,” said Frankel. “The trauma was so severe that she didn’t make it, but we were able to harvest her eggs after she passed. Once we harvested the eggs, we were able to successfully incubate them.”
Once hatched, the baby turtles were monitored while in CROW’s care.
“After hatching, they are placed on damp paper towels until their yolk sac absorbs and then they are transitioned into a shallow water tub with foliage and rocks for basking,” Frankel explained. “We keep them in our reptile room which is kept at ideal conditions for recovering reptiles, with high heat and humidity.”
According to the CROW official, baby turtles do not require much assistance once they hatch.
“Turtle and tortoise hatchlings are self-sufficient as soon as they hatch and do not require any assistance from the parents,” said Frankel. “There is no real care aside from observation that is necessary. We just make sure they appear healthy after hatching and ensure they fully absorb their yolk sacs, then the rest is up to them.”
Not only do turtle hatchlings take up a minimal amount of space in the reptile room, their stay at CROW is relatively short as well.
“They are typically released within a few days of hatching,” said Frankel. “This group was released September 24 in Fort Myers, in suitable habitat.”
In addition to this clutch of 19 eggs, CROW officials are watching the progress on another clutch of 11 Florida softshell turtle eggs from a different mother that are expected to hatch soon. Once those eggs hatch, the same care process will be extended to those baby turtles until they too are released to begin their lives in the wild.
“We try to put our animals back in the general area from which they came,” said Frankel. “The second set of hatchlings, which hasn’t hatched yet, will be distributed appropriately but not in the same locations as the first.”
CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.