The Chinese softshell turtle is a vulnerable species, threatened by habitat loss and collection for food such as turtle soup. Millions are now farmed, especially in China, to support the food industry, and it is the world’s most economically important turtle.
Females of the Chinese softshell turtle can reach up to 33 cm (13 in) in carapace length, while the smaller males reach 27 cm (11 in), but however have longer tails than the females. Maturity is reached at a carapace length of 18–19 cm (7–7.5 in). It has webbed feet for swimming. They are called “softshell” because their carapace lacks horny scutes (scales). The carapace is leathery and pliable, particularly at the sides. The central part of the carapace has a layer of solid bone beneath it, as in other turtles, but this is absent at the outer edges. The light and flexible shell of these turtles allows them to move more easily in open water, or in muddy lake bottoms.
The carapace of these turtles is olive in color and may have dark blotches. The plastron is orange-red, and may also have large dark blotches. The limbs and head are olive dorsally with the forelimbs lighter and the hind-limbs orange-red ventrally. There are dark flecks on the head and dark lines that radiate from the eyes. The throat is mottled and there may be small, dark bars on the lips. A pair of dark blotches is found in front of the tail as well as a black band on the posterior side of each thigh.
These turtles can be injured if they are dropped or hit, and are susceptible to shell fungus. Within Europe, the turtle is a popular pet, particularly in countries such as Italy and the Czech Republic. Captives of this species will eat canned and fresh fish, canned dog food, raw beef, mice, frogs, and chicken. However, in captivity they do not usually eat turtle feed. They can deliver a painful bite if provoked, but will usually let go after a while.