A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Texas Spiny Softshell - Apalone spinifera emoryi

(Agassiz, 1857)
Click on a picture for a larger view

Texas Spiny Softshell locations in California
Red: Range in California

Alien Herps in California

observation link

This is an alien species that has been introduced into California. It is not a native species.

Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell
Adult, Imperial County © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Jeff Lemm & Rick Sturm
Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell
Adult Imperial County
© William Flaxington
Captive adult, specimen courtesy of Tim Burkhardt  © Gary Nafis
Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell
Adult, Kern County © John Reinsch
Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell
Adult, Santa Clara County © Grayson B. Sandy
Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell
Adult, Los Angeles County © Jonathan Hakim
Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell
Adult in pond, Los Angeles County © Jonathan Hakim Adult resting just below the surface of an irrigation canal in Imperial County that kept ducking underwater whenever I tried to photograph it. (This species can be very wary.)
Texas Spiny Softshells From Outside California
Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshell
Adult, Clark County, Nevada © Zachary Cava
Texas Spiny Softshell Texas Spiny Softshells  
Adult female,  Brewster County, Texas
© Dick Bartlett
Adult female (left) and male (right)
Brewster County, Texas © Dick Bartlett
Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat
Habitat, Colorado River, Imperial County Habitat, Imperial County lake Habitat, Colorado River, Imperial County
Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat
Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat
Habitat, San Pablo Reservoir,
Contra Costa County
Habitat, agricultural drain,
Imperial County
Habitat, agricultural irrigation ditch,
Imperial County
Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat
Artificial pond habitat, Los Angeles County © Jonathan Hakim Habitat, Orange County
© Jonathan Hakim
Urban water channel habitat, Orange County © John Gilkerson
  Texas Spiny Softshell Habitat  
  Habitat, agricultural irrigation ditch, Imperial County  
5 - 21 inches in shell length (12.7 - 53.3 cm). (Stebbins 2003)

A very flat turtle with a rounded, leathery-skinned, flexible, shell which is keelless and unhinged.
The snout is long with open nostrils on the end.
The limbs are flat with broadly-webbed feet.
Color and Pattern
Color is olive, brown or grayish, sometimes with dark markings which fade with age.
The head and limbs are olive to gray with dark markings.
Two dark-bordered light stripes mark each side of the head, extending from the back of the eye and from the back of the angle of the jaw.
The shell has a yellowish border with a dark line around it.
The carapace is rimmed with pale coloring which is four to five times wider on the rear than on the front and sides.
There are pale conical spiny projections (tubercles) along the rear third of the shell.
The plastron is yellowish and unmarked.
Male / Female Differences
Males are smaller than females with a thick tail that extends beyond the carapace, and their pattern is more contrasted than that of females.
The shell has a sandpaper-like texture.

Females become more blotched and mottled as they get older and have a smoother shell with well-developed warts on the front edge.
Juveniles have prominent dark markings on the head and the limbs and black spots on the shell.

Life History and Behavior

Thoroughly aquatic, but basks out of the water.
Active most of the year, becoming dormant in cold temperatures.

Often remains hidden underwater with the snout extended up to the surface to breathe.
Turtles Walking on Land Do Not Always Need to be Picked Up and Rescued
Turtles sometimes leave the water to search for food, a better place to live, a mate, or to lay their eggs in the spring - typically from March to June. If you see a turtle walking on the land, it is probably not sick or lost, so the best thing you can do for the turtle is to leave it alone. Some people want to help a turtle they think is in danger by picking it up and bringing it home or to a wildlife rehabilitation center, but most of the time this harms the turtle by removing it from the wild without reason. Sometimes turtles do get lost or stranded in yards or on busy roads or somewhere where they may be in danger. If you find one in such a situation, it's ok to move it out of danger, but it's best to leave it in a safe place as close to where you found it as possible.
Difficult to approach, moves very fast on land and in the water.
Capable of scratching vigorously and producing a painful bite if handled.
Diet and Feeding
Predominately carniverous. Eat insects, crayfish, worms, snails, fish, frogs, tadpoles, and reptiles.
Both actively hunts its prey and sits still to ambush passing prey. May also scavenge its food.
From May to August, females crawl onto land to lay 1 or 2 clutches of 3 - 39 eggs on exposed, sunny, sandy banks. Hatchlings emerge from August to October.

In California, it is found in permanent, not temporary, rivers, agricultural canals, drainage ditches, artificial lakes and ponds. Prefers still water with a muddy, sandy, or gravelly bottom, and aquatic vegetation.

Geographical Range
The species Apalone spinifera - Spiny Softshell, ranges widely through most of the central  and southeastern part of the United States with isolated populations in Montana and extreme southern Canada north of New York, and ranging south into northeastern Mexico.

The subspecies Apalone spinifera emoryi, Texas Spiny Softshell, is native to the Rio Grande and Pecos River drainages in Texas and New Mexico, and the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and northern Mexico. It has also been introduced into parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Baja California.

Range in California

First observed in California in 1945 (USGS Apalone spinifera emoryi Fact Sheet.)
First introduced into the lower Colorado river, Apalone spinifera emoryi has extended its range west into the Imperial Valley and north to the Salton Sea in Imperial and Riverside Counties.
It has also been introduced into San Pablo reservoir in Contra Costa County,
Lower Otay Reservoir, the San Diego River, and elsewhere in San Diego County,
the Santa Ana River in Orange County,
the San Gabriel River and Long Beach in Los Angeles County,
Coyote Creek in Santa Clara County,
the San Juaquin River National Wildlife Refuge,
in Bakersfield,
in the Kern NWR in Kern County and in irrigation canals north in Kings County,
in Montecito in Santa Barbara County,
and in the upper Sacramento River.

I have also received personal reports that they have been found in
Fontana in San Bernardino County,
in Irvine in Orange County,
in Milpitas in Santa Clara County,
in the San Joaquin River in Merced County,
and that they are definitely established at the Kern NWR in Kern County, and might also be found in the Kern River.

It is not known if all of these locations represent speciments that are single waifs or if they represent breeding populations.

Full Species Range Map
Notes on Taxonomy

Six subspecies are recognized including one endemic in Mexico.
The former subspecies A. s. hartwegi - Western Spiny Softshell, was synonymized with A. s. spinifera in 2008 by McGaugh et al. (2008, Zoologica Scripta 37:289-304)

Formerly classified in the genus Trionyx (Trionyx spinifera emoryi)

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Apalone spinifera - Spiny Softshell Turtle (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Trionyx spiniferus emoryi - Texas Spiny Softshell (Stebbins 1985, 2003)
Trionyx spiniferus emoryi - Texas Softshell (Stebbins 1966)
Trionyx ferox emoryi - Spiny Soft-shelled Turtle (Stebbins 1954)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Family Trionychidae Softshell Turtles Bell, 1828
Genus Apalone North American Softshells Rafinesque, 1832
Species spinifera Spiny Softshell (LeSueur, 1827)

emoryi Texas Spiny Softshell (Agassiz, 1857)
Original Description
Apalone spinifera - (Le Sueur, 1827) - Mem. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 15, p. 258, pl. 6
Apalone spinifera emoryi - (Agassiz, 1857) - Contr. Nat. Hist. U. S., Vol. 1, p. 407; Vol. 2, pl. 6, figs. 4 and 5

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Apalone - Greek - apalos - soft, tender - referring to the soft shell
- Latin - spina- thorn or spine, and -ifer - bearing - refers to the spine-like tubercules along front edge of upper shell
emoryi - honors Emory, William H.

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
formerly Trionyx spiiferus emoryi

Related or Similar California Turtles
No other turtles, native or introduced, are similar in appearance to the Texas Spiny Softshell. However, sometimes other species of softshell turtles sold as pets or found in Asian food markets are released into the wild.

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Resources List


Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Carr, Archie. Handbook of Turtles: The Turtles of the United States, Canada, and Baja California. Cornell University Press, 1969.

Ernst, Carl H., Roger W. Barbour, & Jeffrey E. Lovich. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution 1994. (2nd Edition published 2009)
Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the April 2018 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List, both of which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.

This turtle is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.

Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA)
California Endangered Species Act (CESA)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Bureau of Land Management
USDA Forest Service


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