Animal Information

St. Johns River Softshell Turtles are Dying. And so did Ours. A Story That is not Finished.

We recently lost our female softshell turtle. We have no clue why. She was a drop-off that almost got eaten. With that said, she was large and produced many offspring and that may be a sign she was older. We thought we would take the situation and use it to share the issue that the turtles are fighting in the St. Johns River. This story is not over!

Florida has more turtle species than other states. 18 out of Florida’s 26 types of turtle species are freshwater turtle species This time last year state wildlife scientists were baffled over freshwater turtles are dying throughout the St. Johns River watershed in three counties.

Reports and surveys indicated in 2018, at least 100 dead and dying turtles were discovered along the massive watershed for the 310-mile long St. Johns River.

The commission has been monitoring the situation since it first received reports of dead turtles.

Last year, Commission biologists and veterinarians collected samples for necropsy and diagnostics. The state agency, together with the University of Florida researchers to uncover the cause.

The Florida softshell turtle is among the largest freshwater turtles in Florida. They have fleshy shells adapted for swimming, a long neck and an elongated head with a long snorkel-like nose.

Lisa Shender of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the turtles act lethargic and suffer from lesions.

Some 300 dead or sick turtles have been reported during 2019 in the St. Johns River from Palm Bay to Palatka and also in Cocoa Beach, Eustis, Lake Apopka, and Windermere.

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The turtles appear to be afflicted with a virus that never has been seen before. You can see in the video that our female is lack of lesions and other signs of a virus. We can not ignore the fact she came from the same area as the sick turtles.

However, we could not afford the testing at the labs that the state uses. The state has only tested less than twenty turtles from what I have read. One day, we hope to be able to afford that sort of procedure. Until then, we laid her to rest as we do all the animals we love. Click to watch the video. She was super special for a softshell turtle!

Tissue samples from the dead turtles have been analyzed at several laboratories in an effort to detect and identify any pathogens responsible.

Thus far, necropsy results don’t indicate the die-off is due to a toxin, tissue samples also are being analyzed at a toxicology lab, but those results have been negative, according to the commission.

Recently, biologists with the university’s Wildlife Aquatic Veterinary Disease Laboratory (WAVDL) and The Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory have found a virus that is associated with Florida softshell turtles (Apalone ferox), peninsula cooters (Pseudemys peninsularis), and Florida red-bellied cooters (P. nelsoni).

So far it is unknown how the virus has been transmitted to the reptiles. No other animals, such as fish, have been associated with the turtle die-offs.

As part of the ongoing effort to stop the die-off, the FWC is asking the public to take the following actions:

  1. Report sightings of sick or dead turtles to the FWC by calling: 352-339-8597 or through the FWC Reporter App. Photos can be uploaded via the Reporter App and will aid researchers in turtle species identification and condition. 
  2. Do not touch or attempt to move sick turtles. 
  3. To avoid spreading the virus, do not capture, transport or release freshwater turtles, even those that appear healthy, to new locations. 
  4. Do not eat turtles that appear sick or unhealthy. 

Again, We are not saying our turtle had this virus. Instead, we are using our daily lives to share information and help it be more easy to understand. Our female may have been old. It is breeding season and the male may have damaged her. SO many possibilities. We highly doubt any virus.

Here is the offspring propagated here at Crazy Critters. In regards to the breeding program. We will have to find some captive born adults in order to create a healthy animal for wild release. An animal born without issues that this virus will cause.

We plan to now keep all our offspring in hopes to raise them and use them in the future. We have to keep a good breeding program in order to supply these turtles back to the wild, especially restocking the St. Johns River. With the permission of FWC. That is a long term commitment.

UPDATE…

Let us know your ideas and comments below!

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