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How Big Do Softshell Turtles Get? (22 Types)

If you’re wondering ‘How big do softshell turtles get?’ then there are several factors to consider. Factors like Gender and availability to food are key, although the ultimate baseline is going to be the actual species itself.

To expand more on those factors, habitat destruction and poor water quality in their aquatic life environments, for example, in large lakes, large reservoirs, large streams and rivers across regions like the Mississippi River and southern North Dakota, also influence their growth and conservation status.

Most softshell turtles (family trionychidae) kept as pets tend to be moderately sized turtles. These include the smooth softshell, spiny softshells, and the Florida softshell. These turtles generally reach a carapace length of around 5 to 19 inches (12.7 to 48.3 cm).

There are certainly much larger softshell turtles, such as the Indian narrowhead softshell and the black softshell. These turtles can reach carapace lengths of up to 35.8 inches (91 cm).

Overall, the females are generally larger than males when it comes to most turtles, and most softshells are no exception to this rule.

To properly answer this question, today we’re going to take a closer look at 22 different types of softshell turtles around the world so that you can see for yourself how they compare in size and appearance. If you’re ready, then let’s take a look!

How Big Do North American Softshell Turtles Get?

Starting off, we should take a peek at the softshell turtles that you’re probably most familiar with. the softshell turtles found in North America that are most commonly kept as pets include the spiny softshell, smooth softshell, and Florida softshell.

1. Spiny Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Apalone spinifera
  • Known Carapace Length: 5 to 19 inches (12.7 to 48 cm)

Relatively easy to care for, spiny softshell turtles are one of the most popular softshell turtles. They do, however, need a large tank as these turtles are aquatic and hardly even come out of the water to bask! Unlike the smooth softshell, the spiny softshell has spines on the front edge of its shell and these protrusions give this turtle its common name.

The spiny softshell can reach a carapace length of 5 to 19 inches (12.7 to 48.3 cm). Males are much smaller than females, with a maximum carapace length of 5 to 9.4 inches (12.7 to 24 cm). The females can reach carapace lengths of 9.4 to 18.9 inches (24 to 48 cm).

Spiny softshell turtles are popular pets — Ever wonder how to care for one?

2. Smooth Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Apalone mutica
  • Male Carapace Length: 4.5 to 10.5 inches (11.5 cm to 26.6 cm)
  • Female Carapace Length: 6.5 to 14 inches (16.5 cm to 35.6 cm)

The smooth softshell is moderately sized and the males are generally smaller than females, reaching carapace lengths of 4.5 to 10.5 inches (11.5 to 26.6 cm) as compared to the female’s carapace length range of 6.5 to 14 inches (16.5 to 35.6 cm).

Males reach maturity at four years, while females reach maturity at nine years, and this species is estimated to live around 20 years. Unlike the spiny softshell, the smooth softshell lacks spines on the front edge of its carapace.

3. Florida Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Apalone ferox
  • Carapace Length: 6 to 29 inches (15.2 to 74 cm)
  • Maximum Weight: 96 pounds (43.6 kg)
Florida softshell turtle

The Florida softshell is among the biggest softshell turtles in North America, reaching weights of over 44 pounds (20 kg) with the record being 95.90 pounds (43.5 kg). They are also known to reach carapace lengths of over 27.6 inches (70 cm).

All in all, they can get pretty large, but not all individuals reach this massive size.

Similar species to other softshell turtles, females are generally larger than males. Adult females at sexual maturity generally reach a carapace length of 11 to 24.8 inches (28 to 63 cm) with a record high of 28.9 inches (73.6 cm). Adult males, by contrast, reach a more modest carapace length of 5.9 to 13 inches (15 to 33 cm).

The Florida softshell is endemic to the southeastern United States from South Carolina to Alabama and Florida, but as it is found across the Florida peninsula it has earned the common name of ‘Florida softshell’.

How Big Do Asian Softshell Turtles Get?

Asian softshells are among the largest there is. The Yangtze giant softshell, for instance, is known to reach a carapace length of  20 to 34 inches and a weight of 150 to 220 pounds! Needless to say, Asian softshell turtles aren’t commonly kept as pets! We’ll show you a few so that you can see what we mean!

4. Black-rayed Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Amyda cartilaginea
  • Carapace Length: 27.6 to 32.7 inches (70.1 to  81.3 cm)
  • Average Carapace Length: 29.5 inches (74.9 cm)
  • Average Mass: 44 pounds (20 kg)
  • Mass: 33 to 66 pounds (15 to 30 kg)

The black-rayed softshell is very rarely kept as a pet, due to its large size. The average carapace length of the species is 30 inches, while the average weight is 44 pounds.

Unlike American softshell turtles, black-rayed female softshells tend to be smaller than males. Males reach a weight of 44 to 55 pounds (20 to 25 kg). Females, on the other hand, reach weights of 33 to 44 pounds (15 to 20 kg).

Males reach maturity at 4 to 5 years and females at 8 to 10 years.

The black-rayed soft shell is also known as the Asiatic softshell, so if you hear either name, you’re still looking at the same turtle!

5. Southeast Asian Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Amyda ornata
  • Carapace Length: 8.66 – 27.5 inches (22 to 70 cm)
Southeast Asian softshell
Image courtesy of Phương Huy (thảo luận) and WikiCommons

Also known as the ornate softshell, these turtles are endemic to southeastern Asia. Its geographic range includes India, Myanmar to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

There are two subspecies and these are A. o. ornata and A. o. phayrei. The first subspecies ( A. o. ornata) is endemic to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. The second subspecies (A. o. phayrei) is endemic to Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India.

The species can reach a carapace length of about 27. 6 inches (70 cm), although the average is about 8.7 to 15.7 inches (22 to 40 cm). They are gray-brown in coloration, with spots on their upper shell, and the long-snouted, triangular head will sport telltale spots.

The species is often classified as Amyda cartilaginea.

6. Yangtze Giant Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Rafetus swinhoei
  • Carapace Length: 20 inches (50 cm)
  • Maximum Carapace Length: 34 inches (86 cm)
  • Length: 40 inches (100 cm)
  • Mass: 150 to 220 pounds (70 to 100 kg)
Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) huddled up in netted mesh in Dong Mo Lake, Ha Noi, Vietnam
A Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) – Source

The Yangtze giant softshell is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world and some consider this species to be THE largest. This can be tough to determine, however, as the species has a tiny population. There are about three known living Yangtze giants found in Vietnam and China.

This turtle has a weight of 150 to 220 lbs and a length of over 39 inches (99 cm). The Yangtze giant softshell is known to reach a carapace length of  20 to 34 inches and a weight of 150 to 220 lb.

This makes them larger than the alligator snapping turtle, to give you a little idea of the kind of size we’re dealing with.

The species is named after the one river it was known to inhabit – the Yangtze River. We use the past tense on purpose — likely, no individuals may currently be found in the Yangtze River.

7. Euphrates Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Rafetus euphraticus
  • Carapace Length: 22.8 inches (68 cm)
  • Mass: 44 pounds (20 kg)
Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) getting into the water in Diyarbakir, Turkey
A Euphrates Softshell Turtle (Rafetus euphraticus) getting into the water in Diyarbakir, Turkey. – Source

Another massive turtle, the Euphrates softshell is not as large as the Yangtze giant, although both are closely related and share the genus Rafetus. The Euphrates softshell’s population is much larger than the Yangtze softshell, but these turtles are still considered to be endangered.

The species is endemic to the Middle East in countries such as Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, and they are known to inhabit the  Euphrates–Tigris river system.

Quite large, these softshells can reach a weight of 44 pounds and a carapace length of 26.8 inches (68 cm). The upper shell of this turtle is a dull olive in coloration.

8. Northern New Guinea Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Pelochelys signifera
  • Carapace Length: 21.7 inches (55 cm)
  • Max Carapace Length: 35.4 to 39.4 inches (90 to 100 cm)

The northern New Guinea softshell is a massive pancake of a turtle! Endemic to the northern lowlands of Papua New Guinea, they may be found along the north coast to the Wanggar River and the Sepik drainage basin.

The largest recorded New Guinea softshell was 21.7 inches (55 cm) and the largest photographed specimen, while not properly measured, appears to have a carapace length of 35.4 to 39.4 inches (90 to 100 cm).

While we don’t have a picture available of this rare species, you can see them at the World Chelonian Trust Pelochelys gallery (link will open in a new window).

9. Southern New Guinea Giant Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Pelochelys bibroni
  • Max Carapace Length: 40.2 inches (102 cm)

The southern New Guinea softshell is quite similar to the northern New Guinea softshell, but as the name suggests it is found in southern New Guinea in the Timika region in Indonesian Papua to the Laloki River in Papua New Guinea.

The species has a carapace length of up to 40.2 inches (102 cm) and you can see a pic of this species at The Reptile Database (link will open in a new window).

10. Asian Giant Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Pelochelys cantorii
  • Carapace Length: 23.6 inches (60 cm) – verified; 70 to 100 cm
  • Mass: 220 pounds (100 kg)
Pelochelys cantorii
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

The exact size of this species is unknown, although the maximum carapace length is usually estimated at 39.4 to 70.9 inches (100 to 180 cm). These figures, however, are generally inaccurate and likely confused with the Rafetus (Yangtze giant softshell) and Chitra.

The largest confirmed individuals had a carapace length of 23.6 inches (60 cm) and were from Thailand.

As you can tell from its name, this softshell is large and found in Asia, but more specifically in eastern and southern Bangladesh and India, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, southern China, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

11. Leith’s Softshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia leithii
  • Carapace Length:  28.3 inches (72 cm)
Leith's Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia leithii) on a green leaf taken by Anagha Devi
A Leith’s Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia leithii) on a green leaf taken by Anagha Devi. – Source

This softshell is endemic to peninsular India, where it may be found in the Ganges River drainage. It can also be found in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh to Karnataka. The number of individuals remaining is unknown, but small, with a survey of Kali River in 2013 only yielding two individuals.

The species can reach a carapace length of 28.3 inches (72 cm).

12. Indian Peacock Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia hurum
  • Carapace Length: 23.4 inches (60 cm)
  • Mass: 33-44 pounds (15 to 20 kg)
Indian Peacock Softshell (Nilssonia_hurum)

This turtle can be found in Pakistan, southern Nepal, northern India, and Bangladesh, inhabiting the Brahmaputra, Ganga, and Indus River drainages.

Similar in appearance to the black softshell, the Indian peacock softshell reaches a carapace length of about 23.4 inches (60 cm). It also reaches a weight of 3 to 44 pounds (15 to 20 kg).

13. Black Softshell 

  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia nigricans
  • Carapace Length: 35.8 inches (91 cm)
  • Weight: 126 pounds (57kg)
Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) peeking its head out of green murky water
A Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) – Image courtesy of WikiCommons

The black softshell turtle is also known as the Bostami turtle and is one of the largest softshell turtles out there. It is known to reach a carapace length of about  35.8 inches (91 cm) and weighs up to 125.6 pounds (57 kg)The species reaches a weight of 57 kg.

The species reaches maturity at a carapace length of 15.74 inches (40 cm), typically around 7 to 10 years of age. The black softshell is similar in appearance to the Indian peacock softshell, but its carapace carapace is more domed.

Captive individuals can grow even larger. Although the species is predominantly carnivorous, the black softshells found in temple ponds (at the Hayagriva Madhava Temple in Assam) accept puffed rice, cake, and fruits from humans.

14. Indian Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia gangetica
  • Carapace Length: 37 inches (94 cm)
Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) swimming in murkey water with litter in Rajasthan, Indian
An Indian Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) – Image courtesy of INaturalist.org

The Indian softshell is endemic to the Indian subcontinent which gives it its common name. There it may be found in the river basins and tributaries of the Mahanadi River, Narmada River, Ganga River, and Indus River. Its geographic range encompasses Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan,  India, and Nepal.

The Indian softshell is a large turtle, with the largest specimen on record boasting a carapace length of 37 inches (94 cm).

15. Malayan Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Dogania subplana
  • Carapace Length: 14 inches (35 cm)
Malayan Softshell Turtle (Dogania subplana) in pebbles near wet leaves in Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
A Malayan Softshell Turtle (Dogania subplana) – Image courtesy of INaturalist.org

The Malayan softshell is endemic to Malaysia, southern and western Thailand, southern Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia, although this species may be found across southeastern Asia.

These turtles favor clear water streams in forested areas, as well as rice fields, abandoned mining ponds, and semi-urban areas.

Compared to other Asian softshells, the Malayan softshell is quite small in size, but still considered a large freshwater turtle with its carapace length of 13.7 inches (35 cm).

The Malayan softshell has a flat carapace with straight sides and when young, the side of the turtle’s long neck is reddish. Young turtles also have black spots on their back.

16. Asian Narrow-headed Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Chitra chitra
  • Carapace Length: 4.9 ft (150 cm)
  • Maximum Mass: 55 pounds (254 kg)
Asian Narrow-headed Softshell (Chitra chitra)
An Asian Narrow-headed Softshell (Chitra chitra) swimming under shallow water. – Source

This massive turtle is endemic to Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, and Indonesia. In Indonesia, it can be found in Java (Jawa).

Within its geographic range, the species inhabit the Mae Nam Pachi River system and the Mae Klong River system in Thailand, the Ciliwung River, Brantas River, and Brantas River systems in Java, and the Pahang River system in Malaysia.

Asian Narrow-headed softshells prefer to live in large rivers with sandy substrate and clear waters.

We’d mentioned that they were large and we aren’t kidding – these turtles reach a carapace length of up to 4.9 ft (150 cm) and they are known to reach weights of up to 559 pounds (254 kg)!

17. Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Chitra vandijki
  • Carapace Length: 39.4 inches (100 cm)
  • Body Mass: at least 220 pounds (100 kg)
Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra vandijki) on concrete taken by Krishna Kumar Mishra
A Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra vandijki) -Image courtesy WikiCommons and Krishna Kumar Mishra. – Source

The Burmese narrow-headed softshell is endemic to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and gets its common name from the former. In Myanmar, the species inhabit the Chindwin River, Sittaung River, Salween River, and Ayeyarwady River systems.

These turtles prefer to inhabit large lowland rivers with sandy substrate and banks and they are large, reaching a carapace length of at least 39.4 inches (100 cm). Two adults found in a waterbody at Kyaik Paw Law Pagoda in Kyaikto had carapace lengths of 23.6 to 27.6 inches (60 to 70 cm).

18. Indian Narrow-headed Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Chitra indica
  • Average Carapace Length: 31.5 inches (80 cm)
  • Carapace Length: 12 to 75.6 inches (30 to 192 cm)
  • Body Mass: 6.2 to 550.7 pounds (2.8 to 250 kg)
Chitra Indica - India Biodiversity Portal
Chitra indica – Image courtesy of the India Biodiversity Portal

Indian Narrow-headed softshells are endemic to western Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Nepal. A freshwater species, these turtles prefer to live in large rivers with sandy substrate. The Indian narrow-headed softshell is sometimes simply referred to as the ‘narrow-headed softshell’.

The narrow-headed softshell turtle generally reaches a carapace length of 43 inches (16.9 cm), with its full range being 12 to 75.6 inches (30 to 192 cm), and these turtles reach weights of up to 551 pounds (250 kg).

Females are generally larger than males but the males typically have longer tails.

How Big Do African Softshell Turtles Get?

African softshells (trionyx triunguis) are another species of softshell turtles that aren’t normally kept as pets, due to their rarity and size. The Nubian flapshell, for instance, is known to reach a carapace length of 26.77 inches (68 cm) with a weight of around 44 pounds (20 kg).

Let’s take a closer look at a few examples and you can see for yourself!

19. Aubry’s Flapshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Cycloderma aubryi
  • Average Carapace Length: 19.7 inches (50 cm)
  • Maximum Carapace Length: 23.6 inches (60 cm)
  • Body Mass: 33 pounds (15 kg)
  • Maximum Body Mass: 39.6 pounds (18 kg)
Aubry's Flapshell Turtle (Cycloderma aubryi) in the sun by the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo
An Aubry’s Flapshell Turtle (Cycloderma aubryi) – Image courtesy of INaturalist.org

Aubry’s flapshell turtle is endemic to Central Africa, where it may be found in the southwestern Central African Republic, Angola, Congo (ROC), and Congo (DRC). This species generally inhabits large freshwater bodies in tropical rainforests and occasionally is spotted living in temporary ponds and small streams.

Aubry’s flapshell turtles generally reach a straight carapace length of 19.7 inches (50 cm) and a weight of 33 pounds (15 kg). Females are larger than males and can reach a straight carapace length of 23.6 inches (60 cm) and a weight of up to 39 pounds (18 kg).

20. Zambezi Flapshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Cycloderma frenatum
  • Carapace Length: 22 inches (56 cm)
  • Maximum Body Mass: 28.6 to 39.6 pounds (13-14 to 18 kg)
Zambezi Soft-shelled Turtle (Cycloderma frenatum) in grass and dirt at Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique
A Zambezi Soft-shelled Turtle (Cycloderma frenatum) – Image courtesy of INaturalist.org

This turtle is endemic to southwestern Africa and mainly found in the Zambezi River basin, and thus earns its common name. These turtles may also be found in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. 

The maximum size of this large species is unknown, but there are measurements of individuals available. The maximum weight reported varies from 28.6 to 39.6 pounds (13 to 18 kg) and their carapace length is known to exceed 22 inches (56 cm) — although few individuals achieve this full size.

21. Nubian Flapshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Cyclanorbis elegans
  • Maximum Male Carapace Length: 26.6 inches (67.6 cm)
  • Maximum Female Carapace Length: 20.3 inches (51.6 cm)
  • Maximum Male Body Mass: 44.97 pounds (20.4 kg)
  • Maximum Female Body Mass: 24.91 pounds (11.3 kg)
Nubian Flapshell Turtle (Cyclanorbis elegans)

The Nubian flapshell turtle has a wide geographic range, occurring in Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, and Cameroon. The species is believed to prefer large rivers with muddy bottoms, but we have insufficient data to confirm this preference.

With this species, males are larger than females, and the largest male on record weighed 44.7 pounds (20.4 kg) and had a carapace length of 26.6 inches (67.6 cm). The largest female on record, by contrast, weighed 24.91 pounds (11.3 kg) with a carapace length of 20.3 inches (51.6 cm).

22. Senegal Flapshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Cyclanorbis senegalensis
  • Carapace Length: 13.8 inches (35 cm)
  • Body Mass: 11 pounds (5 kg)
A Senegal Flapshell Turtle (Cyclanorbis senegalensis) on pebbly sand in Gambella National Park, Ethiopia
A Senegal Flapshell Turtle (Cyclanorbis senegalensis) – Image courtesy of INaturalist.org

The Senegal flapshell is endemic to the sub-Saharan Sahel-Savannah zone, specifically Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Liberia, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, and southern Senegal.

While this species inhabits most freshwater bodies, it prefers small, seasonal ponds, as well as marshes and even the occasional puddles.

The Senegal flapshell turtle generally weighs just under 11.02 pounds (5 kg) and rarely measures more than 13.8 inches (35 cm) in straight carapace length. It is possible it could reach a straight carapace length of 23.6 inches (60 cm), but such specimens are quite rare.

Frequently Asked Questions

How big is the biggest softshell turtle?

The Yangtze giant softshell is the most popular holder of this title but it’s a tough call — very few of this species are known to exist in the world today.

The ones that we have measured can reach a maximum carapace length of 34 inches (86 cm) and a weight of 150 to 220 lb (70 to 100 kg).

How big do African softshell turtles get?

African softshell turtles are commonly referred to as flapshell turtles and there are four types– Aubry’s, Zambezi, Nubian, and Senegal. Aubry’s flapshell turtles can reach a carapace length of 19.6 inches (50 cm) and a weight of 3 pounds (15 kg).
Zambezi flapshell turtles can reach a carapace length of 22 inches (56 cm) and a weight of 28.6 – 39.7 pounds (13 to 18 kg).

Male Nubian flapshell turtles can reach a carapace length of 26.77 inches (68 cm) and a weight of up to 44 pounds (20 kg) and Senegal flapshell turtles can reach a carapace length of 35 cm and a weight of 5 kg.

What is the smallest softshell turtle?

The smooth softshell turtle is the smallest of softshell turtles, with the larger females measuring a ‘sweet and petite’ 6.5 to 14 inches (16.5 cm to 35.6 cm) in carapace length. This is still a moderately sized turtle, but certainly not overly large.

Wrapping up

How big do softshell turtles get? Well, ultimately, the maximum size of a softshell turtle is dependent on the species. Some, such as the Yangtze giant softshell can reach weights of 150 to 220 pounds, but when you look at the softshells in the pet trade, these are 5 to 1 inch turtles.

Species of softshells can also be found in Africa, also known as flapshells, are pretty good sized, with the Nubian flapshell commonly reaching carapace lengths of 26.61 inches (67.6 cm) with a weight to go with it of 44 pounds (20 kg).

So, when you get right down to it, the answer is ‘It depends on what softshell you’re looking at!’.

Does having a soft shell impact a turtle’s lifespan dramatically? Find out how long softshell turtles live and find out!

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