Creature Feature: Sponge Bob the Softshell Turtle

Sponge Bob was found as a quarter-sized baby in 1993, and was kept as a pet until he was given to the museum by his previous owner in 2004. He lives on exhibit in Carolina Wildlife, but if you visit the museum regularly there is a good chance that you may not have ever seen him before! His exhibit used to be set up differently, and he had a large sandbox that he stayed buried in the majority of the time. Just three weeks ago we completed an exhibit change for him in hopes that he would become more active and, in the process, be a better exhibit animal. He is one of the more unique animals we have, so the keepers wanted everyone to be able to view him!

His new exhibit layout gives him more room to swim, along with deeper water than before. We also took the sandbox, which used to fill almost half of his tank, and shrunk it down so that it now “hovers” in the middle of the water. We added a basking platform made from natural-looking cork bark where he can dry his carapace and soak up some UVB rays, as well as changing the picture backing of his exhibit. So far the results have been great, and he now spends almost all of his time swimming and poking around in the rocks at the bottom of his tank! Although he will swim up to his sand and sit on top of it, he rarely buries himself anymore except, it seems, at night when he sleeps (he is often buried first thing in the morning). He seems to enjoy hanging out underneath his sandbox, as well as swimming through narrow spaces such as the legs of his wooden structure. But one of the best things to see is how he can touch his back feet to the bottom of the tank and stretch his neck so his nose reaches out of the water. That is about 14 inches of water that his body can cover!

Sponge Bob is an eastern spiny softshell turtle, which is one of several sub-species of spiny softshell turtles. Eastern spiny softshell turtles are one of the largest freshwater turtles found in the United States, and can reach up to 18 inches in size. Their name comes from the soft leathery carapace that has spiny-like projections at the leading edge (above the head). Having a soft shell makes them more vulnerable to predators than turtles with hard shells, but they typically make up for it with an aggressive disposition that is comparable to that of a snapping turtle. The speed and agility they have while swimming also surpasses that of any other aquatic turtle, so they can get away quickly if they feel threatened.

These turtles can be found in a variety of aquatic habitats such as marshy creeks, lakes, rivers and streams. They prefer to live in relatively shallow waters with sandy or muddy bottoms while also having access to basking areas such as logs or river banks. They bury themselves completely in the sand, stick only their nose and eyes up out of the water and quickly grab their prey as it swims by. They also find food by searching underneath objects in the water. They eat crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, fish, earthworms, mollusks and aquatic insects. Possibly one of the most interesting things about the spiny softshell turtle is that it doesn’t actually have to get air from the surface. While submerged, this turtle can pump water in and out of its mouth and pharynx. The highly vascular lining of the pharynx removes oxygen from the water and expels carbon dioxide back into it!

This species of aquatic turtle is really cool, and you can learn more about them if you visit the websites listed below. Meanwhile, check out the video of Sponge Bob in his new exhibit. Can you see his heavily webbed feet that help him to swim? Notice how his carapace is broad and flat, and how he sticks his long nose out of the water while staying submerged. Stay tuned at the end when he snatches a little cocktail shrimp off the surface of the water!

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4 responses to Creature Feature: Sponge Bob the Softshell Turtle

  1. Leslie says:

    Thanks for making him easier to see! He is a very cool creature. Kudos to the video editing as well!

  2. Marilyn says:

    Hey Leslie and Troy,thanks for the positive feedback from both of you! And, Leslie, I’m seriously considering doing some movie production on the side, maybe for MGM (I’m sure they’ll recognize my talent after seeing that video).

  3. Katy says:

    Softshell is one of my favorite animals and it is nice that visitors can now see him too. Thanks for making the improvements to the exhibit I think it looks awesome and Softshell seems to enjoy it as well.

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