Scientific Name: Apalone spinifera
Other/Previous Names: Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle,Spiny Softshell Turtle
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2016
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: The continuing decline of this species in Ontario and Québec is attributed to very low recruitment that has resulted from loss of nesting habitat. Suitable nesting and basking sites have been lost and/or degraded by development, altered water regimes (e.g., dams, floods, erosion of river banks), invasive plants, recreational use, and illegal harvest of individuals. Without nest protection, few eggs survive predation by an increased abundance of mammals.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1991. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2002. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in April 2016.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-01-12
Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.
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Image of Spiny Softshell
Spiny Softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) are conspicuously sexually size-dimorphic, with males reaching a carapace length of 22 cm, and females 54 cm. The carapace is olive to tan, relatively flat, round to oval and covered in leathery skin, with spiny projections along the anterior edge that are most conspicuous in adult females. Spiny Softshells are well adapted for swimming, with a reduced lower shell, hydrodynamic shape and strongly webbed front and hind feet. The neck is long, and can extend to approximately 3/4 the length of the carapace. The head is relatively narrow and elongate with a long, snorkel-like snout. Members of the family Trionychidae have a global distribution and diverged from other turtles in the Cretaceous. The species is significant because it is the only native representative of the family Trionychidae in Canada. Canadian populations are at the northern limit of the species’ range, and are adapted to a northern climate (e.g., extended hibernation). Unlike other Canadian turtles, where the sex of an individual is determined by the temperature of egg incubation, sex of Softshell turtles is genetically determined. (Updated 2017/01/16)
Distribution and Population
Globally, the Spiny Softshell occurs in eastern North America from the New England states through extreme southern Quebec and Ontario, west to Nebraska, south to Texas and across the Gulf states to the Atlantic. The Canadian population is divided into two geographically distinct subpopulations: a Great Lakes/St. Lawrence subpopulation in southern Quebec and a Carolinian subpopulation in southern Ontario. (Updated 2017/01/16)
Spiny Softshell inhabits a wide variety of aquatic habitats, including rivers, marshy creeks, oxbows, lakes and impoundments. Common habitat features include a soft bottom with sparse aquatic vegetation, as well as sandbars or mudflats. Overwintering sites are generally in well oxygenated lakes and rivers. (Updated 2017/01/16)
Spiny Softshell can live for several decades. Sexual maturity occurs late, and likely not before 12 - 15 years for females at the northern limit of the range in Canada. Influenced by climate, the life cycle of the species is characterized by a long hibernation and a short, active growing season. Cumulative heat units during the active season determine the time necessary to complete incubation. Eggs are typically laid in June or July, with an average clutch size of approximately 20. It is thought that most females deposit a single clutch annually, but some females lay two clutches in a single year. The incubation period generally varies from 60 to 75 days, and ambient nest temperatures can delay or accelerate incubation. Natural recruitment is low because of high egg predation. (Updated 2017/01/16)
The primary threats are habitat and population fragmentation by infrastructure, alteration of the water regime (flooding of nests) by dams and changing weather patterns, increased recreational and agricultural use of nesting areas and adjacent aquatic habitats by humans (disturbance during nesting, ATV use, horseback riding, watercraft use), invasion of nesting areas by non-native plants (e.g., European Common Reed (Phragmites a. australis)), high populations of mammalian egg predators and egg poachers, injury and mortality from fishing and motor boating (collisions, propellers), and illegal capture of juveniles and adults. Cyanobacterial blooms (e.g., toxin bioaccumulation, impact on prey) may also impact the species. Limiting factors include the time taken to reach maturity, a low rate of recruitment, and the constraint of limited summer heat for completion of incubation and hatchling emergence. (Updated 2017/01/16)
The Spiny Softshell is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).
More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Recovery Strategy for the Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry
Contact Person for Recovery Planning
Québec: Unité de planification de la conservation - Service canadien de la faune - Chair/Contact -
Recovery Progress and Activities
Summary of Progress to Date
Most of the conservation activities for the Spiny Softshell take place in coordination with the Thames, Ausable, and Sydenham River Recovery teams.
Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities
Population surveys are being conducted in potential softshell habitat in Ontario and Quebec. Inter-population movement patterns are being documented through radio-telemetry studies.
Over a nine day period in 2005, staff and volunteers surveyed a core section of the Sydenham River looking for turtles. They observed a total of 45 Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtles and 32 Map Turtles. The turtle sightings, basking and nesting sites were recorded using a GPS unit. Information from this survey is useful to determine if the populations of these species are remaining stable and helping to provide valuable insight into the specific habitat needs of these special turtles.
Several years of recapture, documenting physical measurements, and individually marking the turtles also is providing important information for future turtle identification and conservation. This data allows researchers to determine life expectancy, growth rates, surviving male to female ratios, age of sexual maturity, etc.
Summary of Recovery Activities
In 1996, a landowner contact and education campaign was conducted along the Thames and Sydenham Rivers. The goal of this project was to educate private landowners about the softshell and encourage them to take an active roll in maintaining their property so that it would continue to be available for use by softshells. There has been ongoing communication with several landowners about turtle sightings on their properties and the Spiny Softshell recovery team is now working with one of these landowners to enhance potential Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle nesting habitat on his property.
The Conservation Authority continues its efforts to bring the story of the Sydenham River to the residents of the region. A newsletter was distributed to 37,000 households which updated the efforts that are being made to help species at risk within this ecosystem. A new display was produced which was used at several events over the year. Students also got involved by participating in programs designed to bring the issue of local species at risk into the classroom and a Public Service Announcement was aired on the NewPL over 3 two week periods.
Wildlife Preservation Canada:http://www.wptc.org/wildlife/spinyturtle.cfm
Toronto Zoo: Spiny Softshelled Turtle:http://www.torontozoo.com/Animals/details.asp?AnimalId=487
Canadian Museum of Nature: Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle:http://www.nature.ca/notebooks/english/esturtle.htm
Thames River Recovery Plan:http://www.thamesriver.on.ca/Species_at_Risk/terms_of_reference.htm#Overview%20of%20the%20Thames%20Watershed
Aquatic Species at Risk in the Sydenham River Watershed:http://www.sydenhamriver.on.ca/
Aquatic Species at Risk in the Sydenham River Watershed newsletter:http://scrca.on.ca/Publications/SARNewsletterMarch2006.pdf
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
27 record(s) found.
Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation
This document reports on implementation of the Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada between 2016 and 2021. It reports on implementation of measures identified in the plan, assesses progress towards meeting site-based population and distribution objectives, and evaluates socio-economic impacts.
COSEWIC Status Reports
Spiny Softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) are conspicuously sexually size-dimorphic, with males reaching a carapace length of 22 cm, and females 54 cm. The carapace is olive to tan, relatively flat, round to oval and covered in leathery skin, with spiny projections along the anterior edge that are most conspicuous in adult females. Spiny Softshells are well adapted for swimming, with a reduced lower shell, hydrodynamic shape and strongly webbed front and hind feet. The neck is long, and can extend to approximately 3/4 the length of the carapace. The head is relatively narrow and elongate with a long, snorkel-like snout. Members of the family Trionychidae have a global distribution and diverged from other turtles in the Cretaceous. The species is significant because it is the only native representative of the family Trionychidae in Canada. Canadian populations are at the northern limit of the species' range, and are adapted to a northern climate (e.g., extended hibernation). Unlike other Canadian turtles, where the sex of an individual is determined by the temperature of egg incubation, sex of Softshell turtles is genetically determined.
The continuing decline of this species in Ontario and Québec is attributed to very low recruitment that has resulted from loss of nesting habitat. Suitable nesting and basking sites have been lost and/or degraded by development, altered water regimes (e.g., dams, floods, erosion of river banks), invasive plants, recreational use, and illegal harvest of individuals. Without nest protection, few eggs survive predation by an increased abundance of mammals.
A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.
The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency is the competent minister under SARA for the Spiny Softshell and has prepared this recovery strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Province of Ontario (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) and the Province of Quebec (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs), as per section 39(1) of SARA.
The Multi-species Action Plan for La Mauricie National Park and Canada's national historic sites (NHS) that are part of the Mauricie and Western Quebec Field Unit (MWQFU) applies to the land and waters within the boundaries of La Mauricie National Park (LMNP) and 13 NHSs in Quebec: Obadjiwan–Fort Témiscamingue; Forges-du-Saint-Maurice; Fort Chambly; Fort Lennox; Battle of the Châteauguay; Coteau-du-Lac; Carillon Barracks; Manoir Papineau; Louis-Joseph Papineau; Louis S. St-Laurent; Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site; Sir Wilfrid Laurier; and Sir George-Étienne Cartier. This plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA; section 47) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur on these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in LMNP and on associated NHSs.
The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide as species become extinct. Today’s extinction rate is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural rate. Biodiversity is positively related to ecosystem productivity, health and resiliency (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to respond to changes or disturbances), and, given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to decreases in ecosystem function and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are important to the health of Canadians, and also have important ties to Canada’s economy. Small changes within an ecosystem can lead to a loss of individuals and species resulting in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects.
Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.
COSEWIC Annual Reports
Over the past year COSEWIC re-examined the status of 25 wildlife species; of these, the majority (68%) were re-assessed at the same or lower level of risk. Of a total of 45 species assessed, seven were assigned a status of Not at Risk (two re-assessments and five new assessments). To date, and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 724 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 320 Endangered, 172 Threatened, 209 Special Concern, and 23 Extirpated (i.e., no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 15 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 54 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 177 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.
Permits and Related Agreements
Survey of the Spiny Softshell in a Bird Sanctuary though visual observation and capture using fyke nets.
Fauna and flora survey and identification of potential habitats for species at risk on the territory of Kahnawake.
The work involves the monitoring of Northern Map Turtle, Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle, Eastern Fox Snake, Queen Snake and Butler's Garter Snake. Specimens to be live captured, examined, and released in situ. Specimens not to be injured, killed or removed.
The overall objective of conducting species at risk research within this area is to assist this federal government client in determining the presence or absence of the species in question. The objective is to conduct scientific surveys (including the use of hoop net traps) to detect the Spiny Softshell, Blanding's turtle, and Stinkpot turtle, and collect and record data including their location, the number of individuals and their features.
If the species is found, PIT tagging and/or attachment of a transmitter may possibly be done as well. The transmitter will be monitored by the applicant and replaced as needed in consultation with MNR. If time permits and the turtles are co-operative, a DNA sample will be collected for genetic analysis.
Possible manipulation of Spiny Softshell to move them before the installation of sheet piles for the repair work on the federal Chambly wharf.
Research is being undertaken to determine the impacts of mesopredators, particularly Raccoons, on Point Pelee National Park's turtles and other species at risk (SAR). A SAR permit is required as Stinkpot and Spiny Softshell nests are to be protected from predation using nest protection structures while research regarding predators and nest predation rates is focused on the unprotected nests of non-SAR species.
This work will involve the excavation of SAR nests, temporary removal of the eggs if necessary to prevent their damage during the placement of the nest protection structure, followed by the replacement of the eggs in the same orientation as they were found. Nest protection structures will be checked daily from early August through mid-October, at which time hatchling turtles will be weighed, measured and released as they are found. Nest protection structures will be removed from all remaining nests at such time that nest monitoring is to end as some turtle nests may overwinter, hatching in the spring.
The five objectives of this study are:
1. to actively locate turtle nests within Point Pelee National Park
2. to effectively protect all turtle nests located, with priority given to Species at Risk
3. to opportunistically mark and recapture all turtle species
4. to ensure all protected turtle nests in PPNP are checked daily once hatching may be expected to occur and release all turtle hatchlings in suitable locations
5. to record the number of hatchlings and report the results of the PPNP turtle nest protection program
Purpose is to recapture those specimens of spiny softshell turtle that were fitted with radio telemetry devices in 2006 - to remove devices and to reweigh, measure and release in situ.
This project represents the first step in a comprehensive species at risk study for the site, the results of which will give empirical data regarding the presence and location of any species at risk within the boundaries of the properties. The overall goal of conducting species at risk research within this area is to assist the federal government in determining the presence or absence of the species in question. The objective is to conduct scientific surveys to detect the presence of, and to record data including location, numbers of individuals and their features. Live trapping (followed by immediate release) may be employed in order to gather this information.
This survey represents a first step in a comprehensive species at risk study for the CRL Site. The results will provide empirical data regarding the presence and location of any species at risk within the boundaries of the CRL property. The survey results will provide information which will be useful in developing management strategies. The proposed survey is anticipated to provide information on: presence or absence of various species at risk turtles; habitat selection and range of turtle species; provide details on age, sex and health of individual specimens. Surveyors will adhere to the established site protocols with respect to observational, capture and release methodologies. No animals will be injured, killed or removed. Nests and eggs will be left intact and undisturbed.
The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.
The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 521 wildlife species at risk. In 2016, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, the Governor in Council approved listing proposals for 44 wildlife species. It is proposed that 23 species be added to Schedule 1, 18 be reclassified or have a change made to how they are defined (two wildlife species are being split into four), one species be removed from Schedule 1, and another two species not be added. Listing proposals were published in Canada Gazette, part I for a 30-day public comment period and final listing decisions for all 44 species are expected in the first half of 2017.Please submit your comments byMay 11, 2017, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultationsand byOctober 11, 2017, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations.For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please see:Minister of Environment response to COSEWIC species at risk assessments: October 13, 2016
The COSEWIC Summaries of Terrestrial Species Eligible for Addition or Reclassification on Schedule 1 - January 2017
The status of wildlife species is assessed by an independent panel of expert Canadian scientists, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
149 terrestrial species were assessed as at-risk by COSEWIC between 2009 and 2016 and are eligible for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to be considered by the Governor-in-Council (GIC) on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment: 86 species would be new additions, 54 currently listed species would be reclassified and 9 species would be updated to reflect changes in their recognized designatable units. A three-year listing plan has been developed to address all 149 terrestrial species and listing decisions for most species are anticipated by the end of 2018.
Making amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA is a two-step process. The first step is for the GIC to propose an amendment through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. The second step is for the GIC to make a final decision on whether or not to make amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA, taking into consideration comments received during the 30-day public comment period. The amendments are made through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Both orders are accompanied by a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) which presents the implications of listing the species or changing their status.
Publishing this plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency about the Government of Canada’s plan to make listing decisions under the Species at Risk Act.
NOTE: The information presented below is intended to provide openness and transparency with respect to when terrestrial species might be considered for listing under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. It is intended to assist anyone who may wish to provide comments on such listing considerations. Given any number of factors can affect the timing of a listing decision; the Plan is subject to change. Accordingly, the Plan will be periodically updated.
Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette
The Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera) is a medium- to large-sized aquatic turtle with a flat, leathery carapace. The species is listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. The Spiny Softshell is typically associated with large bodies of water such as rivers, streams or lakes, and only makes use of terrestrial habitat for nesting. In Canada, the Spiny Softshell can be found in the extreme southwest part of Ontario, from Windsor in the west to Toronto in the north and Niagara Falls in the east. There is a smaller portion of the range in the extreme southern portion of Quebec where the Ottawa River enters the St. Lawrence River, and along the border with New York.
Recovery Document Posting Plans
Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances.
Last update December 2, 2021