Do Turtles Jump?


Have you ever seen a turtle jump? Many turtle enthusiasts may have occasionally wondered if turtles can jump.

Turtles can indeed jump, but not very well or far. Larger turtles probably can’t jump, but smaller and mid sized turtles can. Depending on the species, you’re probably looking at a jump height of about 2-4 inches. The common snapping turtle jumps the best and can get enough air to grab your hand.

Now some could argue that turtles do not jump so much as they hop. Which depending upon how you define jumping as compared to hopping, this could be considered to be true. Turtles do not jump very often and their height and distance compared to other animals is minuscule. However, since they also carry a large shell on their backs, it is still quite a remarkable activity.

It might seem that turtles would not be able to jump due to the weight of their shells. While their shells appear quite large, they do not weigh as much as you might think. Compared to the rest of their bodies, turtles shells only make up about 25 to 35% of their total body weight. So while their shell does of course hinder their jumping ability, most of it is not due to weight but rather to the body inflexibility it gives them.

Because of their shell, turtles can not twist their torso the way a human or other animal could. This takes away greatly from their jumping capabilities. It’s okay though for turtles as they having other things they are good at such as swimming. Not too mention you can’t underestimate the special ability of having your very own hiding spot that you get to carry around with you.

Turtles may not be world class jumpers, but few can boast having their own personal home and armor at any given moment.

How Do Turtles Jump?

Turtles have all the necessary biological equipment for jumping. They are quadrupedal organisms meaning that they have four legs, and working together these legs have enough muscles to be able to propel the turtle forward into the air.

Not very far into the air but enough that I would consider it jumping. When turtles jump they don’t jump vertically so much as they jump with a lot of horizontal motion. Its for this reason that you could perhaps say that they more hop than jump.

When turtles jump they bend their back legs as well as their forward legs. Then they push off with all their might. Due to the inflexibility cause by their shells they can only really jump in one direction, forward. Humans and other animals can jump straight up, jump back or to the right or left. They can also do diagonal jumps at a wide variety of degrees. This is not so for the humble turtles who can only really jump forwards. To jump in the other ways would require their torso to be able to bend and flex which with their shell present is not really possible.

How do humans and other animals jump?

Thomas Eakins / Public domain

When humans or other animals jump, their muscles in their legs do most of the physical work. The muscles add kinetic energy to their body, propelling them through the propulsive phase of the movement. With greater musculature work they can increase their launch velocity as well as their acceleration, increasing their ballistic trajectory.

Animals like kangaroos depend on the power of their jumping and elastic tension to cross long distances

How far and well they can jump will be determined mainly by the power of their legs and the length of their legs. Creature that can jump very far often have large legs compared to the size of the rest of their body. Muscles do have limits when it comes to power production however. To transcend these limits powerful jumping animals such as frogs, grasshoppers and kangaroos use an elastic wind up to add extra strength.

They pre-stretch more elastic parts of their body such as tendons to help store more energy. This works somewhat like a rubber band or a slinky. When this elastic tension is release it results in the most incredibles jumps that they animal kingdom can offer.

The most excellent example of an animal using these three jumping factors of muscles, leg length and elastic power storage would probably be the noble frog. Frogs have legs that are nearly twice the length of their body, leg muscles that make up 20 percent of their body weight and they have the flexibility to lengthen their almost all the various hinge points in their legs.

This all leads to a creature that can jump a distance over 50 times their own body length.

Why Would a Turtle Jump?

Seeing how others animals jump you may be able to realize why it is such a difficulty for these shy shelled turtles. Their legs are not very long compared to the rest of their body. In fact, it can be said that turtles downright have short legs. Nor are there legs powerhouses of muscles like one might find in a member of the cat family. And last but not least they have no way to store elastic tension for extra jumping energy.

But this begs the question why would a turtle jump? Other animals jump either to pounce upon prey, to quickly leap away from danger, or to get to something high. With turtles the first two are not really option. If there trying to get away from danger they would probably just simple scamper quickly into the water. And any prey they go after is probably going to be aquatic. They might do a powerful thrusting breaststroke to seize upon a fish but there is no jumping involved under the water.

The main reason they might jump would be to get to something high or to dive from a higher position into a nice cool body of water. All the turtles I have seen jump have either been snapping turtles lunging at a perceived threat or turtles such as red eared sliders, map turtles and painted turtles that having been diving off a rock for a nice swim.

Can Tortoises Jump?

You might also be wondering if tortoises can jump?

Most tortoises can not jump, they can lung and climb. As well as falling off of a high object they have climbed to, but for most tortoises their shells are too thick and heavy to allow them to do any serious jumping.

Tortoises are however avid climbers, they like to explore and climbing is one productive way they have discovered to indulge this desire and pleasure. When they climb there can be a danger that they might fall. Fortunately as long as they don’t fall from too high up then there shell should give them plenty of protection.

As a tortoise keeper you may be worried that your tort companion may be injured falling from a high surface. One simple protection against this danger is try not to provide your tortoise with any high climbing feature in their enclosure in order to protect them.

Common Snapping Turtles Jump the Best

While I can not be one hundred percent sure what turtle is the best jumper of turtle kind, I would put my bet upon the common snapping turtle. These turtles can be fierce little creatures, who there is a real danger of having an appendage badly injured by a bite if you get too close.

Most cases I have seen of turtles jumping have been snapping turtles that were jumping at a person the turtle though was threatening it. Most of these jumps were not very high by the standards of other animals, but by turtle standards were the highest jumps I’ve seen. A common snapping turtle can jump well higher than their own height when they feel threatens. The amount that their legs can bend and the extent to which they can raise their bodies up off the ground greatly exceed that of other turtles.

It’s important to point out that here i am referring to the common snapping turtle and not their much larger river cousin the alligator snapping turtle. Alligator snapping turtles can exceed hundreds of pounds in body weight and I feel may be one of the species of turtles that can not jump due to weighing too much and being too large.

Conclusion

In conclusion turtles can jump, but not very high or far. Their muscles, leg length, and lacking the elastic ability to jump with any great skill. In the case of tortoise due to their much heavier shells they most likely can jump but they can lung, climb and fall.

Of all turtles probably the greatest jumper is the common snapping turtle who can jump a distance greater than their height when warding off what they would consider to be threats.

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