Large aquatic turtle with a big pointed head, long thick tail, and small plastron (lower shell). Upper shell may be tan, brown or nearly black but is often covered with mud or algae. In young turtles, upper shell has 3 rows of low keels, but these are less apparent in older individuals. Head often covered with numerous small black lines or spots. Underparts yellowish-white. Upper part of the tail has large, pointy scales in a sawtoothed row. Eyes can be seen from above.
This softshell species has small bumps or spines on the front of the upper shell and a small ridge on each side of the snout. Shell color varies with age and sex. Males and young turtles have an olive or grayish-tan upper shell with small black dots and circles and a black line along the margin. Adult females have a dark olive or tan upper shell with brown and gray blotches. The lower shell is a plain cream color. Head and limbs are normally tan or olive with small brown or black spots. A yellow stripe, bordered by dark brown, runs from the snout through the eye and along the side of the head; another light stripe runs from the jaw onto the neck.