Cuatro Cienegas Softshell Turtle

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Cuatro Cienegas Softshell Turtle

Trionyx ater

ListedJune 14, 1976
DescriptionA freshwater turtle.
HabitatLakes and ponds.
FoodSmaller aquatic animals.
ReproductionLays eggs.
ThreatsHabitat loss.


The shell and skin of the Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle are a dull grayish-green color, with small white spots on the shell. The shell is rounded and soft, bending easily under pressure. The shell can be as long as 10 in (25 cm). Although distinctive in appearance, the Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle freely interbreeds with the much more widespread and common spiny softshell turtle (Trionyx spiniferus ). This fact casts some doubt on the taxonomic validity of treating the Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle as a separate species.


The Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle is highly aquatic, leaving the water only to lay eggs in a shallow nest dug into a sandy beach or bank. They also sometimes haul out to bask warily on a log or beach. They spend much of their time buried in mud or sediment, with only the snout exposed, waiting to ambush prey that ventures too close.


The Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle occurs in hardwater (i.e., having a high concentration of dissolved minerals) lakes and ponds.


The Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle only occurs in the Cuatro Cienegas basin of northern Mexico.


The aquatic habitats of the Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle are threatened by water exploitation for irrigated agriculture, pollution from gypsum mines, invasive non-native species, and increasing tourism and human population growth. The species may also be threatened by live-capture for the commercial pet trade, and by hunting as a source of wild meat.

Conservation and Recovery

The Government of Mexico has declared the Cuatro Cienegas Basin a National Protected Area, and the rare turtle is also protected. International trade in the critically endangered Cuatro Cienegas softshell turtle is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).


Instituto Nacional de Ecología
Av. Revolución, 1425
Col. Campestre, C.P. 01040, Mexico, D.F.


Carr, Archie. 1952. Handbook of Turtles. Cornell University Press, New York.

Pritchard, P.C.H. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. T.F.H.Publications, Inc. Ltd., Neptune City.