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How Long Do Softshell Turtles Live?

While other turtles have a hard shell, the softshell gets its name from a leathery, soft one! As you might expect, these are aquatic turtles who don’t like to leave the safety of their watery environments. Unlike most freshwater turtles, the softshells barely even take time to bask!

So how long do softshell turtles live? Well, similar to other turtles, these cute chelonians have long lifespans. Some species, such as the Malayan softshell, are known to reach ages of up to 140 years!

That said, most softshells can live for several decades – something you should keep in mind if you’d like one as a pet. Today we’ll take a closer look at the fascinating world of softshell turtles and you can learn a little more about where they live and how long they live!

Lifespans of Softshell Turtles

Lifespans of North American Softshell Turtles

The genus Apalone comprises softshell turtles endemic to North America. These include the Florida softshell, the spiny softshell, and the smooth softshell. Let’s take a closer look!

Spiny Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Apalone spinifera
  • Known Lifespan: 50 years

The spiny softshell has a wide range, occurring from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and it’s even found in several states in Mexico. There are several subspecies of the spiny softshell.

These include the pallid spiny softshell (A. s. pallida), Guadalupe spiny softshell turtle (A. s. guadalupensis), Texas spiny softshell turtle (A. s. emoryi), Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtle (A. s. aspera), and the northern spiny softshell turtle (A. s. spinifera).

All of these subspecies have a similar lifespan of approximately 50 years.

Florida Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Apalone ferox
  • Known Lifespan: 36 years and 8 months

The Florida softshell is a species that is endemic to the southeastern United States. As the name suggests, they are mostly found in Florida, but the full range extends from southern Alabama to southern South Carolina and farther down to southern Florida.

This species may be found in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.

The upper shell of the Florida softshell is olive green to dark brown. The plastron/underside of the turtle is whitish to gray.  The appearance of this turtle is similar to other North American softshells.

The lifespan of wild Florida softshells is unknown. Captive individuals are known to live to 20 years, although the oldest specimen recorded lived to the age of 36 years and 8 months.

Want to learn more about the Florida softshell when you’re done here? We’ve got you covered!

Smooth Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Apalone mutica
  • Known Lifespan: 11 years

The smooth softshell is found in the eastern part of the United States, with a range extending from northwestern Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, southern South Dakota, and eastern New Mexico to eastern Texas and western Florida on the Gulf Coast.

The two subspecies of the smooth softshell are Apalone mutica calvata and Apalone mutica mutica.

As the name suggests, the shell of this turtle is smooth. Unfortunately, very little is known about the lifespan of this species in the wild, although Captive smooth softshells reached lifespans over 11 years.

That said, this species’ lifespan is likely similar to that of other North American softshell turtles such as the spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) and the Florida softshell turtles (Apalone ferox), both of which have an expected lifespan of a little over 20 years.

Lifespans of Asian Softshell Turtles

Black-rayed Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Amyda cartilaginea
  • Lifespan: At least several decades
Black rayed softshell
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

The black-rayed softshell is also known as the Asiatic softshell. While ‘Asiatic softshell’ makes it sound as if there’s only one species, there are quite a few other softshell turtles in Asia.

The Black-rayed softshell is endemic to southeastern Asia and is found in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei Darussalam.

Its range extends from the Thai portion of the Malay Peninsula and throughout Maritime Southeast Asia (Island Southeast Asia).

These are massive turtles, which reach an average weight of 44 lb (20 kg) and have a weight range of 33 to 66 lb (15 to 30 kg). Their average carapace length is about 30 inches (75 cm) with a full range of 28 to 33 inches (70 to 83 cm).

Sadly, there is no data on how long these turtles live, but it is quite likely several decades!

If you’d like to learn how one would take care of a Black-rayed softshell, check out this care sheet on Austin’s turtle page. It’s a quick and interesting read!

Southeast Asian Soft-shell

  • Binomial Name: Amyda ornata
  • Lifespan: At least several decades

This turtle is endemic to  Mainland Southeast Asia, with a range extending from northern India to Vietnam (to the east) and Myanmar (to the south).

There is no data on the longevity of this turtle, although we do know that similar turtles to the Southeast Asian softshell can live for several decades.

Rafetus

This genus includes two turtles –the  Euphrates softshell  (Rafetus euphraticus) and the Yangtze giant softshell (Rafetus swinhoei). There is little on the lifespans of these two turtles.

Yangtze Giant Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Rafetus swinhoei
  • Lifespan: at least 100 years
Rafetus softshell
Image courtesy of Wikicommons

This giant turtle is one of the largest turtles in the world and is endemic to the Red River basin of Vietnam and Yunnan (in China). It is also endemic to the lower Yangtze lowlands, which gives the turtle its common name.

We have very little information on the lifespan of these turtles. The last remaining female lived to be over 90 years before passing away and was still laying eggs annually up to the time of its death. This shows a generation length of at least 100 years and a lifespan of at least 100 years.

Euphrates Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Rafetus euphraticus
  • Lifespan: 100 years
Rafetus euphraticus
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

Similar to the Yangtze giant, there is very little information available on the lifespan of the Euphrates softshell, although it is assumed to be similar to that of the Yangtze giant softshell (at least 90 – 100 years).

The Euphrates softshell is endemic to the Euphrates River and the Tigris River drainage systems. These include the marshlands, ponds, lakes, and tributaries of the two drainage systems found in southwestern Iran, Iraq, Syria, and southeastern Turkey (Anatolia).

Pelodiscus

Pelodiscus maackii
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

This genus contains several softshell turtles. These include Hunan softshell (Pelodiscus axenaria), Huangshan softshell (Pelodiscus huangshanensis), northern Chinese softshell (Pelodiscus maackii), lesser Chinese softshell (Pelodiscus parviformis), Chinese stone slab softshell (Pelodiscus shipian),  Chinese softshell (Pelodiscus sinensis), and  spotted softshell (Pelodiscus variegatus).

The lifespan of softshell turtles within this genus is unknown, but they likely live for several decades.

Pelochelys (New Guinea Giant Softshell Turtles)

The turtles within this genus include the southern New Guinea giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys bibroni ), Cantor’s giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii), and the northern New Guinea giant softshell turtle (Pelochelys signifera).

Similar to other softshells endemic to southeast Asia, the lifespan of these turtles is unknown, ut with a generation length of 15 years, they are likely to live for several decades.

Northern New Guinea Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Pelochelys signifera
  • Lifespan: At least several decades

This turtle is endemic to northern New Guinea and its geographic range gives it its common name. Its range extends from the northern lowlands of New Guinea to north-central Indonesian Papua.

These massive turtles are aquatic and are found in freshwater habitats such as large rivers, estuaries, and wetlands.

While their longevity is unknown, the generation length is estimated to be about 15 years because of their large size.

Southern New Guinea Giant Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Pelochelys bibroni
  • Lifespan: At least several decades

The southern New Guinea giant softshell is endemic to southern New Guinea. Similar to the northern new guinea softshell, this turtle is endemic to freshwater habitats such as estuaries, wetlands, large lakes, and tropical lowland rivers.

These turtles are estimated to reach maturity at 10 years and have a generation time of 15 years. Based on this, their lifespan should be several decades.

Asian Giant Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Pelochelys cantorii
  • Lifespan: At least several decades
Pelochelys cantorii
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

The Asian giant softshell is another massive softshell turtle endemic to southeast Asia, Bangladesh, and eastern and southern India. The lifespan is unknown, although it has a minimum generation length of 10 years. As such, the lifespan of this species is most likely several decades.

Nilssonia

This genus includes softshell turtles endemic to South Asia and Burma. While the lifespan of this species is unknown, the species within the genus have lifespans of 15 to 30 years, and should therefore have lifespans of several decades. The exact lifespans of all of the turtles within this genus are unknown.

Leith’s Softshell Turtle
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia leithii
  • Lifespan: At least 21 to 24 years
Leith softshell
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

This is a large softshell turtle endemic to peninsular India. It is currently found in the Siwaram Wildlife Sanctuary and Manjira Wildlife Sanctuary in Telangana (India) and the Kali River in Karnataka (India).

The lifespan of the species is unknown. It reaches maturity at ages seven to eight and has a generation length of 21 to 24 years, and should therefore live for at least several decades.

Indian Peacock Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia hurum
  • Lifespan: Over 25 years
Nilssonia hurum
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

This turtle is endemic to northern India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and southern Nepal and you’ll find them in the Brahmaputra, Ganga, and Indus river basins.

They inhabit freshwater habitats such as ponds, lakes, and rivers, feeding on mosquito larvae, fish, prawns, and mollusks. They also eat food items fed to them in temple ponds. They are large turtles, reaching weights of 15 to 20 kg.

The lifespan of the species is unknown, but it reaches maturity at age seven to eight years and has a generation length of 20 to 25 years. This means that it should live for at least around 25 years.

Curious to learn more? Check out some more facts on the Indian Peacock softshell here when you’re done!

Burmese Peacock Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia formosa
  • Lifespan: Over 30 years

The Burmese Peacock Softshell is endemic to Myanmar, where it is found in three main river systems — the Chindwin River, Ayeyarwady River, and Sittaung River.

It reaches maturity at the age of 10 years and has a generation length of 30. Although the lifespan of the Burmese peacock softshell is unknown, it will be longer than 30 years due to its generation length.

Black Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia nigricans
  • Lifespan: Over 15 years
Bostami via Wiki
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

The geographic range of the black softshell is extremely narrow. It is endemic to the Brahmaputra River and its tributaries, the Karnaphuli River drainage system, the Meghna River drainage system, and temple ponds in Assam and Tripura of Northeast India.

The black softshell is one of the largest of its kind, reaching a weight of 57 kg and a carapace length of 78 cm. The generation length is estimated to be 15 years, and so it should live over 15 years.

Indian Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Nilssonia gangetica
  • Lifespan: Over  27 years
Indian Softshell
Image courtesy of IndiaBiodiversity

This turtle is endemic to the Indian subcontinent, where it is found in the drainage systems of the Mahanadi, Narmada, Ganga, and Indus Rivers. They may be found in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

The Indian softshell is known to live in large freshwater habitats such as canals, rivers, lakes, and ponds. With carapace lengths of up to 94 cm, it is one of the largest freshwater turtles in its local waters.

The longevity of this turtle is unknown, but we deduce that it can live over 27 years with its suggested generational length of 25 to 27 years. This species reaches maturity at ages eight to nine years.

Malayan Softshell

  • Binomial Name: Dogania subplana
  • Lifespan: 140 years

Found in Java, Sabah, Indonesia, Sumatra, Sarawak, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, and Kalimantan, these softshells have an impressive range and an even more impressive lifespan of up to 140 years.

Chitra (Narrow-headed Softshell)

This genus is made up of three turtles — the Asian narrow-headed softshell turtle (Chitra chitra), Indian narrow-headed softshell (Chitra indica), and the Burmese narrow-headed softshell (Chitra vandijki).

The lifespan of the species is not well documented, although it is suggested that the Indian narrow-headed softshell can live to an age of 140 years in the wild, and it has been recorded to live for over 70 years in captivity.

Asian Narrow-headed Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Chitra chitra
  • Lifespan: Over 45 years

The Asian narrow-headed softshell is endemic to Thailand (Mae Khlong and Mae Nam Pachi River drainage systems), Peninsular Malaysia (Pahang River), and Java in Indonesia.

These turtles generally live in large rivers with sandy bottoms and clear waters. With an estimated generation length of 45 years, we can tell that they can live for over 45 years.

Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Chitra vandijki
  • Lifespan: Over 100 years

This softshell turtle is endemic to Myanmar, where it occurs in the Chindwin and Ayeyarwady River systems. Similar to over narrow-headed softshell, the Burmese narrow-headed softshell lives in large freshwater habitats, including large and medium lowland rivers.

The longevity of the species is unknown, although it is presumed to be over 100 years. It reaches maturity at age 10 to 15 years and has a generation length of approximately 30 to 45 years.

Indian Narrow-headed Softshell
  • Binomial Name: Chitra indica
  • Lifespan: Over 70 years
Dudwalive chitra
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

The species is endemic to western Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and India, where it prefers large rivers with sandy bottoms.

The Indian narrow-headed softshell is a big turtle, reaching a mass of up to 551 lbs (250 kg). This makes it one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world!

While there isn’t much information on the life expectancy of this softshell, captive individuals have been known to live for over 70 years, and there are reports indicating that they can live up to 140 years in the wild.

Lifespans of African Softshell Turtles

There are four softshell turtles endemic to Africa. These include Aubry’s flapshell turtle (Cycloderma aubryi), the Zambezi flapshell turtle (Cycloderma frenatum), the Nubian flapshell turtle (Cyclanorbis elegans), and the Senegal flapshell turtle (Cyclanorbis senegalensis).

While there is little information on the lifespan of these African softshell turtles, based on the information about their age of maturity and generation length, they can live for several decades.

Aubry’s Flapshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Cycloderma aubryi
  • Lifespan: Over 20 years
Aubrey's Flapshell Turtle
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

This turtle is endemic to the Congo River drainage system and the lower Ogooué River drainage system. Its range includes the southwestern Central African Republic, Cabinda in Angola, Congo (ROC). and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Similar to other softshell turtles, this is an aquatic species that inhabits large freshwater bodies.

Little is known about its longevity, although with a generation length of 20 years, we can safely assume that they can live at least 20 years.

Zambezi Flapshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Cycloderma frenatum
  • Lifespan: Over 20 years
Zambezi Flapshell Turtle
Image courtesy of WikiCommons

This turtle is endemic to East Africa where it is found in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi. This is an aquatic flapshell turtle that inhabits rivers and lakes.

While there is little data on the lifespan, the generation length of the species is 15 to 20 years, so it should live at least 15 to 20 years.

Nubian Flapshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Cyclanorbis elegans
  • Lifespan: Over 25 years
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters – Cyclanorbis elegans, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56589187

The species is mostly found in West and Central Africa and its geographic range includes Ghana, northern Togo, central Nigeria, southern Chad, northern Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Sudan.

There is little to no information on the age, maturity, and lifespan of the species, but the estimated generational length of the species is 25 years. Based on this information, it should live to be over 25, but that is our best estimate.

Senegal Flapshell Turtle

  • Binomial Name: Cyclanorbis senegalensis
  • Lifespan: Over 15 years
Senegal Flapshell
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters – Cyclanorbis senegalensis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56589193

This aquatic softshell turtle is found across much of West, Central, and East Africa, where it occupies most of the freshwater bodies within its geographical range. These include lakes, large and small ponds, marshes, and even puddles.

There is little to no information on longevity and lifespan, but it should live more than 15 years with its estimated generation length of 15 years.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can a softshell turtle live?

The softshell with the longest lifespan is the Malayan softshell., which boasts a robust lifespan of up to 140 years. It really depends on the species, though.

A captive Florida softshell might only live about 20 years, while a spiny softshell has a lifespan of around 50 years. As such, it’s best to read up on any softshell that you are considering, just to make sure that you aren’t entering a commitment that you cannot keep.

How long do Nile Softshell turtles live?

Also known as the African softshell, these turtles may live up to 50 years or a little longer — provided that you take good care of them. One Nile softshell at the Smithsonian lived to the ripe old age of 53!

How long do softshell turtles live in captivity?

Your average pet store softshell will be of the North American variety, so some examples would be the spiny softshell, which has a lifespan of about 50 years, and the smooth softshell which will live for a little over 11 years.

Conclusion

As you can see, many softshell turtles can live for several decades. Some, such as the Malayan softshell, might live to be 140 years old, while the Spiny softshell might live a more modest 50 years.

For many softshell species, we simply don’t have enough data, but the generation length of them gives us a pretty good approximation of the minimum expected lifespan. As softshells tend to live a very long time, you’ll want to be sure to research any of these turtles that you’d like to take home.

Otherwise, your kids might be inheriting a softshell turtle!

Want some more softshell turtle tales? Here’s a closer look at 6 types of softshell turtles with tank size needs and more!

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