Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Reptiles and Amphibians of North Dakota
Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica)
Smooth softshell turtles, also known as "leatherbacks," are found in the Missouri
River System of North Dakota. They are characterized by their nearly circular
carapace covered with a soft leathery type of skin. The color of their shells
may vary from olive-gray to orange-brown. The underside or plastron is gray
to creamy white. The markings on their heads consist of pale stripes on the
snout in front of the eyes, and pale stripes behind the eyes with dark borders.
These turtles are strong swimmers. They swim submerged in the water, breathing
through their snorkel-like snouts. They like to sun themselves near the shoreline
but are easily disturbed and quickly swim away.
Females grow larger than the males and are fully mature in seven years.
They mate in May to June with the females digging out nest sites on sand bars.
One to three clutches of eggs are laid, each containing 4-33 hard-shelled
They feed primarily on crayfish and other small invertebrates. Frogs and
small fish also are included in their diet.
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