Estimates for the Missisquoi Bay population range from
How To Release a Hooked Turtle
Bait on a ﬁshhook may look like a tasty meal to a turtle
but this can lead to accidental hooking. Sometimes an
Vermont’s A n odd
120 to 200. No population has ever been documented
on the New York side of Lake Champlain and no
unlucky cast will snag a turtle’s shell or leg. Spiny Softshell be sure,
other populations are currently known to exist in New
England or Quebec.
Here’s how to remove hooks and prevent unnecessary Given the rare nature of this unique turtle and the
death to the unfortunate animal.
Grasp the carapace (upper shell) near the tail with your
limited habitat, it is important to avoid the loss or
degradation of suitable habitat. If we respect the needs
thumbs up. Don’t hold by the tail. of these threatened turtles, we can hopefully enjoy this
DIANE PENCE from other
This can injure a turtle. Hold the unique species for generations to come.
turtle with its head down and in Vermont by their very pointed snout and their leathery
belly towards you, well away shell. But these are not the only things that make this
from your body. shy turtle unique.
Or, support the turtle with one Spiny softshells depend on beaches for their
hand underneath the lower shell survival. They need undisturbed sand or gravel
(plastron) and hold the base of beaches to lay their eggs. Even basking, which Missisquoi Bay
the tail with the other hand for Canada
aids digestion and egg maturation prior to laying,
control. is important for softshell population health. United States
Cover the turtle with a heavy cloth, Unfortunately, suitable habitat on Lake Champlain East Alburg
shirt, jacket or bag to calm it down. has been negatively impacted by development.
Find a strong stick or rod and Today, this species is found in and near the lower
Lamoille River and around Missisquoi Bay, including
let the turtle bite it. Gently, Swanton
but ﬁrmly hold the parts of Quebec. Yet, historic records indicate the
turtle’s head in its shell spiny softshell were more common in the past.
with the stick. The The softshell arrived in Lake Champlain at the
turtle will not be able end of the glacial era, approximately 10,000 years
to push its head out or
drop the stick. This will Their Future is ago. In 1853, Vermont’s famous naturalist, Zaddock
Thompson, reported spiny softshells in the lake. By
keep the head still and the 1936 researchers considered them to be very rare
mouth open but occupied.
With a pair of pliers, or if necessary, by hand, gently
in Our Hands in Lake Champlain, and speculated that occasional
hooking mortality, predation and pollution of the
St. Albans Bay
remove the hook the same way it went in. If the hook Winooski River could be reasons for their scarcity.
is all the way through the ﬂesh, cut the barb to make Habitat loss likely played a role too, and the Winooski
removing the hook easier. If you cannot remove the River no longer supports a population.
hook, cut the ﬁshing line close to the hook. In 1987, the spiny softshell was state-listed as Spiny Softshell Turtle
Once the hook is removed, release the turtle
VERMONT threatened in Vermont. In 1991, spiny softshells Distribution in
immediately. Be very careful and stay alert. Don’t were nationally listed as threatened in Canada and Lake Champlain
ofﬁcially listed as threatened in Quebec in 1999.
underestimate the strength of an animal in fear! FISH AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
www.vtfishandwildlife.com Today, we estimate that spiny softshell turtles
(802) 241-3700 number over 200 in Lake Champlain and consist of South Hero Lamoille River
two main groups or populations. The lower Lamoille
AGENCY OF NATURAL RESOURCES River population is estimated to be 60 individuals.
FISH & WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
10M - 9/07 www.vtfishandwildlife.com / 802.241.3700 103 South Main Street, 10 South • Waterbury, Vermont 05671-0501
Softshell Turtle Truths Threats What You Can Do
This turtle was named spiny softshell because the Hatchlings come out of the nest, or emerge, between Direct loss of nesting, Do not disturb turtles on their nesting and basking
front edge of the carapace (upper shell) behind the late August and October. Timing of emergence is critical basking and winter sites. Stay at least 300 feet away and honor warning signs
turtle’s head is studded with knobby because spiny softshell turtles hibernate under water. hibernation sites through when posted. Use binoculars to get a great view.
projections called tubercles. Hatchlings must reach water before the ground freezes to changes to shoreline and
Boaters and anglers should maintain a respectful
The carapace avoid certain death. development.
distance from nesting and basking sites to avoid accidental
is ﬂattened and
Spiny softshells in Lake Champlain Dams on rivers. They hooking or injury from boat propellers.
covered with soft
hibernate for almost six months, generally alter the shape of the
leathery skin Remove garbage from beaches to avoid attracting
from November to April. They tend to use river, act as barriers to
instead of skunks and raccoons to nesting sites throughout the
the same overwintering sites every year. movement and migration,
and change water ﬂow
These sites are called hibernacula.
Small sharp Keep livestock and house pets away from nesting sites
and levels. Changing
projections Spiny softshell turtles like habitat that during the summer.
water levels can cause nest
roughen has some aquatic vegetation and a soft ﬂooding and egg mortality. Learn how to properly release a hooked turtle to
the carapace Basking is critical for digesting bottom for feeding.
surface, making People disturbing The Missisquoi River Delta reduce stress and injury to both parties. If you hook a
food and developing eggs. Spiny softshells come out of the water
it feel like the turtles when they are provides habitat for softshells. turtle while ﬁshing or when it is on land, put it back in the
sandpaper. in sheltered places and bask in the sun for nesting or basking, causing water and contact Fish & Wildlife at 802-241-3700.
hours at a time. Fallen trees with underwater this shy species to abandon
Females spiny Get involved. Observe and report turtle sightings and
limbs, mudﬂats, sandbars, rock causeways, and their activity and retreat to
softshells are much larger than nesting activities in your area.
ﬂoating platforms offer good basking sites. the safety of water.
males. Females can reach a shell length of Support spiny softshell conservation programs.
up to 21 inches and weigh as much as 25 pounds. Males Adult female spiny softshells travel long distances, Aquatic activities, such Purchase a Conservation License Plate. Donate any
reach a maximum carapace length of about eight inches. especially in early May and late August. This is when they as boating and ﬁshing, amount to the Nongame Wildlife Fund on your Vermont
move between their nesting and summer areas and their during the nesting period
Spiny softshell turtles eat crayﬁsh, aquatic insects, income tax form, on hunting and ﬁshing license
overwintering sites. may delay or discourage
earthworms, tadpoles, frogs, and minnows. applications or by direct donation (see below).
Spiny shoftshells may live more than 50 years. nesting or physically
Female spiny softshells are sexually mature at about damage animals. Anglers
Spiny softshell recovery efforts in Vermont are funded
twelve years old. Their shell length at maturity will be may mistakenly hook by tax-deductible contributions to the Nongame Wildlife
seven to eight inches. Males shell length at maturity will turtles while ﬁshing. Boat Fund. Direct gifts are accepted, payable to:
be about half that size. Softshell turtles in Vermont and trafﬁc causes a risk of boat
Nongame Wildlife Fund
Quebec may take longer to mature because their growth propellers injuring turtles.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Dept.
may be slower at our northern location. 103 S. Main St., 10 South
Mating typically takes place in April and May. skunks love turtle eggs Spiny softshell turtles will Waterbury, VT 05671-0501
Females dig nests in open areas along the shore of the and hatchlings and these nest on gravel beaches. Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s Nongame and
lake or river in June. A female will lay about 20 eggs, predators tend to ﬁnd them Natural Heritage Program (NNHP) manages and enhances
which she buries in the sand or gravel. Good sun easily. Waste food left behind by picnickers in areas Vermont’s native plants, natural communities, and animals
exposure is a must, because soil temperature determines where turtles nest can attract predators and increase the that are not hunted of ﬁshed. Our mission includes
how long the eggs take to develop and hatch. risk of predation. Uncontrolled dogs can also be a threat preserving Vermont’s rich and varied natural heritage for
to softshell turtles. present and future generations.