Chinese Soft-Shelled Turtle

Pelodiscus sinensis

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are native to China, Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, North Vietnam, and Japan. Introduced populations have become established in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Batan Islands, Hawaii, and California. They have long been harvested for food (primarily turtle soup) and folk remedy tonics. Chinese soft-shelled turtles can grow up to 1 foot long, although related species can be much larger.

The Chinese soft-shelled turtle is found in lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, even ditches. It is highly aquatic and usually stays submerged, breathing by using its long snout and tubelike nostrils as a snorkel. They often rest on the bottom, buried in sand or mud, and lift their heads to breathe or snatch at prey. The species forages at night for invertebrates, fish, and amphibians.

Did You Know?

All reptiles carry Salmonella.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Some Cause for Concern

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are commercially farmed in vast numbers (several million per year) for the food trade. Still, wild individuals continue to be exploited for food and farm stock, resulting in population declines throughout the species’ wide range.  Furthermore, it is unclear how much of the ‘farmed’ trade involves harvesting of wild-collected eggs, and how damaging this is on wild populations.  Finally, turtles worldwide are threatened from exploitation, and some species are on the verge of extinction due to collection for food.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Ensure that your soft-shelled turtle is captive-bred from domesticated animals. Only acquire a pet from a reputable breeder or seller to ensure that you are not buying a wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Some Cause for Concern

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are commonly raised commercially in ponds and canals. This practice has led to the establishment of self-sustaining wild populations outside the species’ native range. Little is known about potential impacts of these turtles in non-native habitats. However, the species is carnivorous and therefore likely to affect native species.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species.

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are relatively difficult to keep healthy in captivity unless great attention is paid to providing the proper environment. They require a large tank with heated water and a sandy substrate.  They are highly sensitive to inadequate or inappropriate water quality. They are vulnerable to illness and disease due to improper husbandry. The most common ailments in soft shell turtles are: 1) swollen eyes with closed eyelids, due to a lack of Vitamin A in the diet; 2) deformed shells and soft bones caused by insufficient minerals and vitamin D in the diet; 3) abrasions to the very soft shells caused by sharp or rough edges on tank ornaments; 4) burns caused by unshielded water heaters, and 5) infections on the shell due to poor water quality in the tank. In commercial breeding facilities, Chinese soft-shelled turtles are kept in high densities, which can lead to lower growth rates and higher rates of disease.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a pet soft-shelled turtle, be sure to research its specific care requirements.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

There is little information on whether the diseases of captive soft-shelled turtles pose a threat to humans or wildlife. All reptiles carry Salmonella. If ingested by humans, Salmonella can cause vomiting and diarrhea; these symptoms are usually mild in healthy adults but can be fatal to infants and young children, or anyone with a compromised immune system. It is important to wash hands before and after handling an animal. Salmonella can be transmitted from exotic pets to any member of a household, even those who do not handle the pet directly.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Reptiles often do not show signs of illness when harboring Salmonella. Regardless, when purchasing a pet ask the seller if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received. Always wash your hands after handling a reptile.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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