The Chinese Softshell Turtle
The Asiatic soft-shelled turtle
Chinesische Weichschildkröte (German)
Species: Pelodiscus sinensis.
The Chinese sotfshell turtle is endemic to Asian countries: China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Taiwan. In Russia it can be found in the south of Far East (along the rivers of Amur and Ussuri).
The Chinese softshell turtle prefers water basins with a thick layer of ooze at the bottom where it can bury itself.
It is a good and quick swimmer that seldom comes ashore. This turtle can stay submerged for a long time, and even when it needs to breathe in, it can do it with the tip of the nose, without coming to the surface.
The Chinese softshell turtle is not large, their carapace can reach 25 cm, although specimens up to 40 cm have been reported.
The carapace is leather-like, smooth and oval-shaped. It is normally gray-brown, the plastron is yellowish or pink. The head is medium-sized, with a long pointed snout that ends with nostrils. It has brown legs and webbed feet. Each foot has 5 fingers, three of them end with sharp claws. The skin of the turtle is thin, its bones are fragile, but the jaws are very powerful. The head is covered with dark and light spots; dark lines radiate from the eyes to the neck. When a male gets three years old, it gets a long tail with light stripe along it. The female’s tail remains small. Males are normally smaller than females.
The Chinese softshell turtle is a very agile reptile but it is nervous and easily scared.
They often bite people and can be difficult to tame.
It hunts from an ambush: it lies buried in the ooze or sand and waits for the prey.
This turtle can bury itself in ooze or sand very quickly. It is a fast runner and swimmer.
The Chinese softshell turtle has hard bone plates in its mouth. In the wild the turtle uses them to crack the shell of snails. It can bite through the human’s skin too.
This turtle has a long and mobile neck, it stretches easily and the turtle can bite a person that is holding it.
The Chinese softshell turtle needs a large tank, starting from 200 liters. It is best to keep it alone because these turtles are very territorial. For substrate you can use sand or small gravel (a layer 10-15 cm thick) for the turtle to bury itself in. The tank should have an island for the turtle to come ashore. Above the ground you will have to install a basking lamp.
You will have to change one third of the total amount of the water every week. You can pour tap water of the same temperature as the water in the tank. You will need a powerful external filter since the turtles soil a lot. The filter needs to be cleaned every second or third month. You will also need a reliable heater that the turtle won’t be able to break.
The temperature in the basking spot should be about 30-32°C at daytime. It is important that the basking lamp is located at least 20 cm away from the turtle, otherwise it can get burnt.
The air humidity should be about 50%.
The ideal water temperature is within the range of 24 – 29°C, and the temperature at the basking spot mist be higher, otherwise the turtle won’t warm itself.
The Chinese softshell turtle needs 12 hours of light a day with filament and fluorescent lamps.
The Chinese softshell turtle is omnivorous, it mainly eats food of animal origin: insects, amphibians, fish. In captivity you can feed them with commercial food (it already contains all the necessary minerals and vitamins). Also the turtles can eat bloodworms, foraging fish, worms, shrimps and mussels, frogs. It is not recommended to feed turtles with wild-caught fish because they can give it tapeworms. These turtles eat a lot, so it’s important not to overfeed them. If you don’t feed the turtle with commercial food, you will have to add to the menu calcium supplements and vitamins.
It is not a big turtle that is easy to keep.
You can give to it commercial food.
The Chinese sotfshell turtle is difficult to tame, it bites.
It is easily injured because of its soft body.
You cannot keep them together with other turtles or fish of any size.
This turtle is skittish and hard to handle.
Fungal infections occur. For prevention you have to set an island in the tank so that the turtle can get out and warm up.
It is important not to have sharp objects in the tank because the turtle can get injured. If it happens, you have to add to the water the decoction of oak bark until the water gets light brown. It is a good antiseptic.
The Chinese softshell turtle is sexually mature at the age of 4-6 years old. During mating the male holds the female’s carapace tightly and can even bite it. The copulation can take place both under the water and on the ground. The female digs a nest up to 1 m deep (which is very difficult to provide in captivity) and lays there 8-30 eggs. The eggs are white with the shade of beige or yellowish, ball-shaped. They are about 10 cm in diameter and weigh about 5 grams. The hatchlings come out after 60 days. For a few days they are fed from the yolk sac, then they start eating the same food as adult turtles. In order to stimulate mating, you can organize brumation period that lasts for about 2 months under the temperature of 15-18 degrees. It is important to prepare the turtles for brumation gradually; you should decrease the temperature and the amount of hours of light little by little. One week before you start to decrease the temperature you should stop feeding the turtles. When the period of brumation is over, you should gradually increase the temperature and the amount of hours of light.
The female can keep the sperm in its genital tract for about a year. Due to the specifics of the process, breeding in captivity is very complicated.
Average life span in captivity under good care can be up to 30 years.