We all have heard the story of the hare and the tortoise, and we know how the story ends. The hare, all set to win the race, eventually loses to the turtle, steadily carrying on. Even though tortoises and turtles belong to the same family, turtles live in aquatic or semi-aquatic conditions, whereas tortoises are mostly terrestrial creatures.
Nevertheless, people assume that turtles are slow-moving creatures too.
While there is some truth to this, how fast are turtles exactly? Or, can turtles even run?
Let‘s take a look at this puzzling yet fair question in more detail.
Additionally, to take better care of your pet turtle, check out this turtle care guide.
Table of Contents
- Can Turtles Run?
- How Fast Can Turtles Run?
- How Fast Do Turtles Run On Land?
- Why are Turtles Slow?
- How Far Can a Turtle Travel?
- Fastest Turtle in the World
- Which Turtle Species is the Slowest?
Can Turtles Run?
To put it simply, yes, turtles can run. Though they might run at a slow pace, the average speed of a turtle is 3 to 4 miles per hour. This speed varies from one species to another.
For instance, softshell turtles are some of the fastest turtles on land. Box turtles and Cooter turtles are some of the slowest turtle species.
It is important to note that all these turtle species are faster in water than on land.
How Fast Can Turtles Run?
The speed of a turtle depends mainly on what kind of a turtle we are talking about here. Two common types are box turtles and cooter turtles.
How Fast Can a Box Turtle Run?
Box Turtles live on land. The average speed of a box turtle is 0.17 miles per hour. Sometimes, if they have to cover short distances, they can also run quicker. In this case, their speed can reach up to 0.25 miles per hour. A difference between these and other turtles is that box turtles usually prefer hiding inside their shell when they feel threatened instead of running away. This reason is also why this species hardly covers any distance at all in the entire day.
How Fast Can Cooter Turtles Run?
A Cooter turtle is one of the giant pond turtles and is found mainly in North America. Just like the others of its species, they swim faster in water than they do on land. Their average speed on the ground is 1.07 miles per hour, making them quicker than a box turtle.
How Fast Do Turtles Run On Land?
The speed of a turtle on land is different, depending on what species it is.
Not all turtles can run as fast as their counterparts can. Their average running speed is 3 to 4 mph on land, as mentioned earlier. Of course, turtles cannot win a race with this speed, but with patience, they can cover long distances (just like in the story of the ‘hare and the tortoise.’)
Most of the time, turtles do not feel the need to run unless a predator is chasing them. They may also be inclined to run if a sea turtle is on land for a long time and suddenly spots some water. But apart from this, there are no reasons for your turtle to run.
Why are Turtles Slow?
Turtles are naturally a slow species. There are many reasons for this. Most of these have to do with evolution and survival. Remember that being slow has never proved to be a threat to turtles. Some reasons why turtles are slow-paced creatures are:
They do not need to hunt for food:
Turtles, unlike other animals, do not have to rely on hunting to obtain food. Most turtles are omnivores, which means that they survive by eating aquatic plants and small insects, sometimes even fish. To catch fish underwater, they do not need speed as much as precision.
Turtles are slow-moving creatures because they do not have to run and hide from predators. The turtle’s shell is its most prominent layer of protection. Turtles tend to use this shell to hide their vulnerable parts, such as their heads, limbs, and tails. Additionally, the hardness of the shell guarantees their safety because not all animals will be able to break it.
A heavy physique:
The heavy shell on the back of the turtles does not make it easy for them to run or sprint, as their bodies weigh them down. The bodyweight of the turtles combined with the shell makes it a task to run. Sometimes, even if they try to run, they might flip over due to the weight and risk hurting themselves. For comparison, a turtle shell is a quarter or a third of its body weight. Imagine a human who is 150 pounds, carrying a 50-pound load on their back and trying to walk.
Like most animals who are cold-blooded, turtles have a slow metabolism. They burn their energy very slowly, and it is uncomfortable for them to use it up while running. This reason is why they tend to keep a slow and steady pace.
How Far Can a Turtle Travel?
We have already seen that turtles are not known for their speed. Their bodies and habitat do not create any need for them to travel far or fast. But, some turtles can travel long distances for no apparent reason too.
Sea turtles are usually one of the turtle species that travel more. As soon as a sea turtle is sexually mature, it looks to travel a long distance or migrate for breeding purposes.
This process can take several months as the turtle has to cross hundreds or even thousands of miles.
Sea turtles surpass land turtles in travel.
The record for the longest migration belongs to a green sea turtle who traveled 3472.4 miles (or 3979 km). This migration was between Chagos to Somalia.
Another fascinating fact is that a leatherback turtle usually travels more than 9000 miles (or 16,000 km) in a year. The reason for this migration is even more fascinating — they are on the lookout for their favorite food, jellyfish!
Loggerhead turtles also travel more than 8000 miles (or 13,000 km) to look for food.
Land turtles do not travel as much as their aquatic companions because they cannot move with speed on land.
Giant turtles do not even move more than 60 meters in an entire day!
A box turtle also never travels more than 2.5 to 3 acres in its entire lifetime.
Land turtles prefer staying close to their homes as much as they can.
Fastest Turtle in the World
Even in turtles, some are faster than others.
The fastest turtle species in the world are the softshell turtles.
Although turtles generally have a speed of 3 miles an hour, softshell turtles can travel at a rate of 15 miles per hour.
The softshell turtles are very lightweight, and their shell makes it easy for them to move. These turtles also have more legroom due to bodies that are not that rigid. These factors combine to create a fast-paced turtle species.
Leatherback sea turtles can also reach astonishing speeds in water. One leatherback turtle can move up to 22 miles per hour. This feat is impressive because they already weigh more than 1500 pounds (700 kgs), and they can still wade through water easily.
Interestingly, turtles were also one of the species that have traveled to space. This interesting trivia gives them an astonishing speed of more than 23,000 miles an hour!
Which Turtle Species is the Slowest?
Compared to other animals, turtles are pretty slow-moving. As mentioned earlier, their average speed is just 3 to 4 mph. Some turtles are even slower than these.
The slowest of them all are Gopherus turtles, who appear never to move. Their minimum speed is 0.13 miles an hour, and their maximum speed can only reach 0.25 miles an hour! It is because of its heavy shell, which restricts movement.
The Giant Galapagos also comes quite close to the Gopherus in terms of speed. They can only move up to 1 mile per hour.
One of the slowest turtle species is ‘box turtles.’ They are mainly terrestrial turtles, which means these turtles swim pretty severely. This flaw puts them at a double disadvantage: being slow on land, being quiet in the water.
The average speed of box turtles is as little as 0.17, which is 0.25 mph at their maximum.
Other pretty slow-pokes species are ‘cooter turtles.’ Their average speed is slightly higher than that of box turtles: 1.07 mph, still slow.
So far, we have established that turtles are slow-moving creatures, but they are more than capable of making a run for it if the situation demands it. Of course, some are considered the fastest and the slowest turtles on land, even amongst the turtles.
Let us spend some time understanding who they are.
Soft-shelled turtles are the fastest land turtles. The reason for their speed is that they can move their limbs faster than the others. As the name ‘soft shelled’ suggests, their shells are soft, making their movements easier. This light-weightedness gives them a boost, and they can travel quicker.
However, this does not mean that they are slow underwater. These turtles are very adept swimmers too!
When it comes to a battle of speed underwater, no one can surpass sea turtles. A sea turtle is one of the fastest turtles to swim in the water. Even in the family of sea turtles, the fastest of them is the ‘leatherback sea turtle.’ The leatherback turtle is the fastest underwater compared to all turtle species.
Additionally, leatherback turtles can also dive at incredible speeds. They can dip up to 4000 feet quickly!
Sea turtles, and more specifically leatherback sea turtles, can swim over 20 miles per hour. Some sea turtle species even cover more than a hundred miles in a week.
The average speed of a turtle is 10 to 12 miles per hour. Of course, traveling long distances means they have to take multiple breaks on the way.
In this context, Green sea turtles can cover up to 300 miles (or 480 km) in just ten days — a significant feat!
Even baby turtles are natural-born fast swimmers; they can swim up to 25 miles per hour in the first 30 hours of being born.
Let us take a quick look at the difference in speed between some common sea turtles.
There are seven common sea turtle species. They are green sea turtles, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, Hawksbill sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, Olive Ridley sea turtles, and flatback sea turtles.
The highest speed of them all is of a leatherback sea turtle, that is, 22 miles per hour. Green sea turtles have an average speed of 19 miles per hour. Next are the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and Olive Ridley sea turtles, who swim at the rate of 17 miles per hour. Lastly, the Hawksbill sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, and flatback sea turtles ll have the same speed, that is, 15 miles per hour.
Turtles simply do not need to be fast runners. Their lifestyle does not require them to be agile, so they have never been able to win any races (literally). But, we have seen that turtles can sprint very well if the need arises — especially in water. They are equipped with many quirks, such as flippers or webbed toes, to achieve these speeds.
Speed on land or water does not impact their long life, though.
Some turtles love to travel around, while others never walk more than 100 feet in their lifetime.
Overall, turtles are slow-moving creatures but fully capable of making a mad dash for it if they are inclined to do so.
Interested to know more bout turtles? Also read how to identify an unhealthy turtle shell here, or the answer to the oft-asked question: can turtles see in the dark?