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How Fast Can A Turtle Run?


Turtles are notorious for being slow-moving animals. They seemingly stroll from one point to another. But surely there’s a point where they’d need to run, right? And, if so, how fast can turtles run?

So, How Fast Can A Turtle Run?

In general, turtles average out at 3-4mph while running. Although it’s not fast, it’s a decent rate due to their physiology. Of course, the species, circumstance, and location are all factors in finding a turtle’s actual running pace. 

As with everything, some influences decide how fast a turtle can run. So, let’s have a look at various turtle speeds, why they run, and how far they can go.

How Fast Can Turtles Run?

The average running speed is very low, but it’s impressive when you factor in their physiology. 

Turtles have heavily armored shells of 50 fused bones – ribs, vertebrae, and other bones. Because of the inflexibility of the hard shell, turtle limbs don’t have the range of motion to get up to a decent speed. 

Along with a rigid shell, its weight of it is another challenge. The bigger the turtle, the heavier the shell, and the slower it can run.

But certain species can run at that average speed or higher. For example, soft-shelled turtles can manage this 3-4 mph speed because their shell allows more limb movement. And it’s been recorded that soft-shell turtles reached speeds of 17 mph while sprinting.

With a lighter, flexible shell than some of their counterparts, shell weight isn’t an issue for soft-shell turtles. 

How Fast Can Tortoises Run?

All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. Tortoises are commonly grouped under every turtle topic. Although similar, they differ, and the same goes for their running speeds. 

Tortoises are land species and are extremely poor swimmers, so they rely on the safety of their shells rather than running when threatened or under attack. 

Because it relies on its shell, a tortoise’s shell is sturdier and taller than other species as they need to retreat inside for protection. Because of this, tortoises tend to run at speeds from 0.13 to 0.3 mph. 

Fastest Turtles

It’s difficult to pinpoint the fastest turtle in the world—factors like if it’s underwater or on land and what they’re doing affect the result. 

For instance, when a snapping turtle is striking, it can go as fast as 175 mph (making it the fastest animal in the world). But that speed isn’t sustainable, and it only lasts milliseconds. 

It’s best to break down the fastest turtles based on whether they are on land or water. 

On Land

The fastest turtle on land is the mighty soft-shell turtle. For the above reasons, these turtles find running faster than other species easier. 

The key reason is its shell. A hard shell is made of bony scales, whereas a soft shell is made of leather-like skin. This streamlined difference makes reaching those speeds possible. 

And, not forgetting about tortoises, the fastest recorded tortoise was a leopard tortoise that reached 0.63 mph and currently holds the Guinness World Record. 

In Water

Turtles are faster in water than on land, with buoyancy and different gravitational forces at play to help. But when it comes to what species are the fastest, sea turtles win out.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle takes the speedy title, reaching speeds of 22 mph. Again, it might not seem like much, but considering they weigh around 1,500 lbs, it’s very impressive. 

Slowest Turtle

Now you know the fastest turtles ever recorded, you’re probably wondering what the slowest species is. 

The Giant Galapagos Tortoise is the slowest recorded turtle, measuring speeds of 0.23 mph. And this makes sense seeing as they don’t have any natural predators to evade. 

From the Giant Galapagos Tortoise’s sheer size and weight, 6.2 ft and 880 lbs, respectively, moving such a big body at anything other than a slow pace is a waste of energy. 

Why Do Turtles Run?

As you can see, turtles aren’t made for high speeds. They primarily rely on their shell to protect them from predators and harsh weather conditions. 

But there are some times when turtles (and tortoises) will run. For instance:

  • If a vulnerable turtle is under a prolonged attack, it may run to shelter to protect itself.
  • Particularly in the case of pet turtles, seeing their owners approach with food makes them run toward their owners. In the wild, a turtle has been observed running toward a scarce body of water to rehydrate. 
  •  During mating periods, males may run to impress nearby females. 

Why Are Turtles Faster Underwater?

Whereas most turtles average out at 3-4 mph on land, they’re capable of tripling or quadrupling that to speeds between 10-12 mph underwater. How is this possible?

In aquatic species, including freshwater, the streamlined shell cuts through the water more efficiently while swimming. 

Understandably, sea turtles are amongst the fastest swimmers. This is because they are more streamlined and larger with larger limbs, and all seven species have front flippers to thrust forward and rear ones to steer themselves seamlessly. 

Compared to semi-aquatic turtles, these turtles use all four limbs for swimming through the water. (The only freshwater species to have flippers is the Fly River Turtle) These turtles have webbed feet that efficiently paddle them through the water. 

Small freshwater turtles like the Red-Eared Slider are incredibly comfortable in water, swimming and surfacing when needed. 

However, larger freshwater species like the Common Snapping Turtle tend to walk along the beds of rivers or lakes. So they are slower and don’t swim as much.

What Makes Turtles So Slow?

Aside from their shells greatly influencing their land and water speed, there are other reasons why turtles are renowned for being amongst the slowest animals in the world. 

Some influencing factors on turtle speed:

  1. Self-preservation
  2. Slow metabolism
  3. Food abundance

Self-Preservation

The bulk of a turtle’s body weight is the shell. It typically accounts for a third of the total weight, which makes their slow pace complete sense. 

As a turtle’s shell is the source of its protection, the turtle must protect it at all costs. For example, the shell could be badly damaged if a turtle sprinted and fell. Or lead to cuts and spine breaks which can lead to shell infection and other health conditions.

Slow Metabolism

Turtles have slow metabolisms typical of cold-blood animals. Conserving their energy and internal heat temperature is vital for survival, so turtles do their best to minimize wasting.

Their slow metabolism helps brumation (important in wild cold seasons) and live long lives. The oldest recorded turtle is a Seychelles Giant Tortoise, still going strong at 191 years old. 

Food Abundance

Most turtle species are omnivorous, i.e., they eat plants and animals. Because of their dietary flexibility, they don’t need to worry about the food source. So, the need to run that is inherent in hunting predators is lost on turtles. 

They don’t need to hunt or catch prey on land, as they can rely on surrounding plant life for sustenance. Turtles have plenty of food as long as the plant is within reaching distance.  

Because turtles are faster in the water, they can more easily capture insects, worms, and even slow-moving fish while relying on aquatic plants. 

How Far Can Turtles Go?

How far turtles can or want to go depends on the species. There’s no need to go far for some, especially pet turtles. Whereas sea turtles are well known for traveling long distances using the help of underwater gulf streams. 

Land turtles, like box turtles, prefer to stay close to their home and rarely go farther than 107,000 sq. ft. However, there’s always an adventurer who likes to explore farther.  

But then, conversely, tortoises can be unstoppable with how far they can go. Theoretically, a tortoise could travel more than 6 miles in a day. 

Interestingly, one local newspaper reported a male tortoise walking 6 miles daily to visit a female in a nearby zoo. 

However, no species travels farther than sea turtles. Sea turtles usually swim hundreds of thousands of miles to reach breeding grounds. 

(Or their favorite snacks, like one Leatherback Turtle that travels over 9,900 miles yearly to get its favorite jellyfish snack)

Finally

The speed at which turtles can run vary wildly depending on the species you’re talking about. 

As a general rule of thumb, the larger the turtle, the slower it’ll be. But water is a different story, as marine species are notoriously big but reach speeds up to 22 mph.  

Regardless of the species, turtles are known for their slow movement. And thanks to evolution, their diets, shell, and slow metabolism, they don’t need to worry about being fast.