Spiny Softshell Turtles on Mott Street


The spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera) is available live in Chinatown fish markets along Mott and Grand streets.

Those who enjoy looking in those cardboard boxes (either approvingly or disapprovingly) that are used to merchandise live creatures on the sidewalks in front of Chinatown markets had a surprise in store for them yesterday: live softshell spiny turtles, who appeared to be sunning themselves in the cramped boxes.

The turtles are of the species Apalone spinifera, native to North America and Central America. The reptile’s range extends as close to the city as New Jersey and upstate New York. The softshell has no “scutes” or scales.

The “spiny” part of the name refers to a ridge of spines at the anterior end of the non-rigid shell. The turtle may live to an age of 50 years or more. The animal is currently registered on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species as a “Least Concern” species, meaning the population of the turtle is not considered endangered in any way. (Though Canada’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada [COSEWIC] considers the species “Threatened.”)

You could buy one (at $8.99 per pound) and keep it as a pet, except it’s supposed to be aggressive and has a strong bite. If you want to eat it, here’s a Cajun recipe for turtle in sauce piquante, courtesy of Texas A&M University.

How do you feel about live animals being merchandised in this way? As a foodie? As a humanitarian?

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