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Do Florida softshell turtles bite?

A softshell turtle bite is a painful one. Lacking a hard shell, these turtles are more aggressive than most and depending on the species, their bites can pack a punch! So, What about Florida softshell turtles? Do Florida softshell turtles bite?

Popular among American turtles, especially in North America in regions like Florida and South Carolina, the Florida softshell turtle is recognized by its long neck and tubular snout, anddoes bite which is going to hurt thanks to its strong jaws and sharp beak. Along the same lines, smooth softshells, which are also known for their leathery shell and aquatic habitat, exhibit similar aggressive behavior when threatened.

Like any wild animal, they are going to be wary when approached or handled, so it’s important to keep this in mind if you are keeping one and you should know how to properly treat a bite.

In today’s article, we’ll talk more about Florida and other softshell turtle bites, as well as how to treat them and touch on some popular questions of the subject along the way. If you’re ready, then let’s get rolling!

Bite Force of Softshell Turtles

A Florida softshell turtle coming up for air
A wild Florida softshell turtle coming up for air

There is very little information on the bite forces of softshell turtle species and in a way, that’s kind of good news. After all, if there was a lot of cause to worry, you’d think that someone would definitely study it a little more. That said, we do have SOME data on the subject that we can share.

For instance, one study was done by the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Antwerp (UIA) and is known as “Evolution of bite performance in turtles”. This study details the bite force of 30 turtles, 5 of which just happened to be softshells! You can read the full study on research gate.

The five lucky softshell specimens included the black-rayed softshell/Asiatic softshell (Amyda cartilaginea), Florida softshell (Apalone ferox), Spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera), Chinese softshell (Pelodiscus sinensis) and Malayan softshell (Dogania subplana).

The sample size included two black-rayed softshells, five Florida softshells, three spiny softshells, two Chinese softshells, and three Malayan softshells.

The Florida softshell had a bite force of about 41.50 Newtons (9.33 pounds of force), while the black-rayed softshell could bite with 210.43 Newtons  (47.3 pounds of force). The spiny softshell, by contrast, possessed a bite force of about 12.21 Newtons (2.74 pound-force).

The Chinese softshell weighed in with a bite force of 59.44 Newtons (13.36 pound-force) and finally, the Malayan softshell had a bite force of about 37.30 Newtons (8.39 pound-force).

As far as force goes, this is fairly minor, although a lot depends on where the turtle bites you. There is only one severe softshell turtle bite that we are aware of and it’s a prime example of this. As it turned out, it wasn’t from a Florida softshell, but rather a Malayan softshell turtle.

An Incident of A Severe Softshell Turtle Bite

In 2018, a report that appeared in the International Journal of Clinical Rhinology detailed a case of a 17-year-old who had the unfortunate experience of having the tip of his nose bitten off by a Malayan softshell.

The 17-year-old was hunting and catching freshwater turtles for sale when he slipped and fell. A 22-pound (10-kg) Malayan softshell fell on him and the frightened turtle lashed out and bit the tip of his nose off.

The unlucky boy, experiencing the powerful bite of softshell turtles firsthand, was quickly taken to the Accident and Emergency Department of Hospital in Muar for treatment, highlighting the need for caution in human interaction with wild turtles.

While there was minimal bleeding, as this was a nose bite, the boy was in a lot of pain and surgery was required. A full-thickness skin graft was used to help minimize the damage caused by the turtle bite, but due to the severity, the unfortunate boy remains disfigured to this day.

If you recall from the bite force section, the Malayan softshell bites with about 37.30 newtons (8.39 pounds of force) but the Florida softshell can bite at 41.50 newtons (9.33 pounds of force). Simply put, the Florida softshell can bite just a little harder.

So if you have a Softshell as a pet turtle do NOT put it close to your face – these are beautiful, but wild animals, and you must always handle them with care, respect, and caution!

Do Florida softshell turtles bite?

First aid for a turtle bite
It’s a good idea to have a first-aid kit at home for turtle bites

Thankfully, most softshell turtle bites are going to be fairly innocuous, although they can still lacerate the skin. The bites are quite painful, but very rarely serious. That said, even if it doesn’t break the skin, a softshell turtle bite is quite unpleasant and not something you’ll want to repeat.

We’ll share some information in regards to treating a softshell turtle bite so that you can file it away mentally in case you ever need it.

Treating Softshell Turtle Bites

Softshell Turtle Bites That Do Not Break The Skin

The majority of pet softshell turtle bites will fall into this category, provided that you are handling them carefully and respectfully. While these types of bites hurt, that’s usually the extent of it, with the possible exception of some minor swelling.

Treatment

If you get bitten by a softshell turtle and it doesn’t break the skin, the best approach is to start by washing the area that was bitten with soap and warm water.

While that should be all that you need, keep an eye on the wound and if it remains swollen and painful after 24 hours have passed, then go ahead and visit your doctor to be on the safe side and get a little relief.

Superficial Softshell Turtle Bites That Break The Skin

If the bite does break the skin but isn’t that serious, you should still apply a little first aid. Superficial bites include bites that cause minimum to no bleeding and bites that aren’t deep.

The issue with Florida softshell turtle bites isn’t so much the bite. As aquatic species, softshell turtles tend to carry a lot of pathogens, such as salmonella. This is true of all turtles, but softshells tend to carry more than their fair share due to their environments, even if your tank is spotless.

Without proper care, the bite may easily become infected and if that happens, you’ll want to be sure to get medical attention right away. In the meantime, however, below is how you should treat a superficial bite.

Treatment

Materials you’d need include:

  • Clean running water and soap
  • Clean cloth
  • Antibiotic Ointment/Creams, for example Polysporin
  • Bandage

Steps

  • Before you get started, the person treating the bite needs to wash their hands with soap and running water. Clean both hands properly –You don’t want to introduce germs into the bite when you are supposed to be treating it!
  • The first thing that you’ll need to do is apply pressure to the bite with a cloth or a spare bandage. This should ensure that it stops bleeding. Apply the pressure for about 10 minutes and if it is still bleeding after that, then it’s best to seek medical attention right away.
  • Once the bite is no longer bleeding, go ahead and clean it. Simply run the bite under clean water for 5 minutes, removing any dirt or debris in the process.
  • To prevent infections, apply a topical antibiotic such as Polysporin and observe the wound for a minute or two to make sure that you don’t have any reactions to the antibiotics.
  • To keep that bite clean, go ahead and cover it with a bandage such as a band-aid.
  • Change that band-aid/bandage regularly once a day and reapply your antibiotic cream.
  • Watch for signs of infection such as persistent pain around the area, persistent swelling, pus, or changes in the coloration of the wound.

Serious Softshell Turtle Bites

If you see a wild Florida softshell then you can look but leave it alone!

Very severe bites can be easy to identify simply from the profuse bleeding, but there’s a little more to it. Below are some signs that a bite is definitely serious and needs immediate medical attention:

  • Bites that bleed profusely (gush or spurt) are obviously serious. These happen when the bite raptures a blood vessel and immediate medical attention is required. To prevent severe blood loss, apply pressure to the bite and get a doctor involved as quickly as possible.
  • Any bite that is still bleeding 10 minutes after applying pressure should also be considered serious. There are several reasons this might happen, with a bleeding disorder being one example. Alcoholism has even been known to impair blood clotting and fibrinolysis, which can lead to excessive bleeding. Regardless of the reason, seek medical attention right away.
  • Bites to key parts of your body such as the nose, throat, chest, or abdomen are always considered serious and require medical attention.
  • The presence of symptoms like trouble breathing, rapid and irregular breathing, dizziness, vomiting, and loss of consciousness should also be a reason to get medical professionals involved right away.

Treatment

The best you can do in case of a serious bite is to perform first aid while awaiting medical attention from paramedics, doctors, or nurses. If the victim is bleeding profusely, first aid can save their life.

  • Apply pressure to the bite using a clean cloth/bandage. When the cloth is soaked with blood do NOT remove it, simply add another clean cloth. Do this until the medical professional arrives. 
  • Call for medical attention. This includes calling for emergency services, or getting the person to a medical professional/facility as fast as possible if emergency services aren’t available. 
  • If the person has no injuries to the neck, head, or spine, then lay the person down on their back with their legs elevated about a foot up.

Looking for a smaller softshell turtle? We’d like to introduce you to the smooth softshell turtle when you’re done here!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to pick up a softshell turtle?

When done properly, it is certainly safe to pick up a softshell turtle, but it’s a good idea to watch a video of it being done to make sure that you know what you’re doing.

Do not pick the turtle up by the limbs, neck, or tail as you can severely injure it, and stay mindful of its mouth and what you’re putting it close to!

Do softshell turtles have teeth?

Softshells lack teeth but don’t hold that against them — this can be said of all turtles. Most turtles have sharp beaks, although species of softshell turtle have beaklike soft lips. These lips may not be hard but don’t underestimate them – they can still deliver strong bites thanks to their unique set of powerful jaws.

How strong is a softshell turtle bite?

The Florida softshell has a bite force of about 41.50 Newtons (9.33 pound-force) compared to the black-rayed softshell’s 210.43 Newtons  (47.3 pound-force). The spiny softshell has a bite force of about 12.21 Newtons (2.74 pound-force) and the Malayan softshell bites with 37.30 Newtons (8.39 pound-force).

How to properly hold a Softshell Turtle

Conclusion

While they are very cute, the Florida softshell turtle, Eastern spiny softshell turtle, Midland smooth softhell turtle, Chinese softshell turtle and other aquatic turtles are quite capable of delivering very painful bites. These bites are usually innocuous and might not even break the skin, but in some cases painful lacerations or worse are possible if you are unlucky.

Your best defense is knowledge — learn how to properly handle your softshell turtle and try to be as gentle as possible to avoid frightening them. If you are bitten, treat the wound according to it’s severity, and if you think it’s serious, then get medical attention right away.

With rare exceptions such as the account that we shared today, most bites should be innocuous, and with a little luck, the only thing injured will be your pride!

Want to learn about some different softshells? Here are 6 softshell turtles that we can tell you about that we think you’re going to love!

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