The Chinese softshell turtle can reach a carapace length of 1 ft (30 cm). 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.
The Chinese softshell turtle is found in China (including Taiwan), North Vietnam, Korea, Japan and Russia.
Chinese softshell turtles live in fresh and brackish water. In China these turtles are found in rivers, lakes, ponds, canals and creeks with slow currents, and in Hawaii they can be found in marshes and drainage ditches.
These turtles are predominantly carnivorous and the remains of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and seeds of marsh plants have been found in their stomachs.They forage at night.
With their long snout and tubelike nostrils, these turtles can "snorkel" in shallow water. When resting, they lie at the bottom, buried in sand or mud, lifting their head to breathe or snatch at prey. Their basking habit is not well developed.
Chinese softshell turtles often submerge their heads in water. This is because they carry a gene which produces a protein that allows them to secrete urea from their mouths. This adaptation helps them survive in brackish water by making it possible for them to excrete urea without drinking too much salty water. Rather than eliminating urea by urinating through their cloaca as most turtles do, which involves significant water loss, they simply rinse their mouths in the water.
When provoked, certain populations of these turtles are capable of excreting a foul smelling fluid from pores on the anterior edge of their shells.
Wild populations are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.