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Reptiles and Amphibians of North Dakota

Smooth Softshell Turtle (Apalone mutica)

species distribution map JPG -- Species Photo


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 eggs.

They feed primarily on crayfish and other small invertebrates. Frogs and small fish also are included in their diet.


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