Do Turtles Run And How Fast Are They?


Some people may wonder whether turtles can run or not and how fast can they be? This is a very good question, we’ve all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. How the hare had the sprinting power, but lost the race in the end to the turtles slow tenacity. On the surface turtles may seem slow but do they actually pack more power then we think?

Most turtles can run at a speed of about 3 to 4 mph. Though their speed can vary depending upon species. Ranging from the slowest the gopherius tortoise which moves at 0.13 to 0.3 mph, to speedy soft shelled turtles which are renowned for quick sprints away from danger. In the water turtles are much faster with sea turtles getting up to 20 mph while swimming.

Turtles can run but generally not very fast. Their tenacity in travel though can surprise you and many turtle keepers have been caught off guard by their pet turtle sprinting away from them when they’re not looking.

Turtles may not be known for their speed, but can be faster than you expect if owners do not watch them closely!

Speed is not something that turtles are built for with their large shells. Their more fond of hiding in their shell then running away from threats. A turtles shell provides the most excellent protection, so this is not a bad strategy for dealing with danger.

Turtle speed can vary greatly depending upon the species and whether their running on land. Not their most favorable domain or whether their in their element swimming in the water.

While turtle speed may not seem that important, there are a wide variety of interesting facts to go into about the subject.

How Fast Do Turtles Run On Land?

Turtles may run if they are eager to take a cold dip on a hot summer day

Most turtles can generally run about 3 to 4 mph on land. Some turtles are faster than others though. While turtles wont generally win a sprinting race, they can get quite far over land with a bit of patience.

Usually you will only see a turtle run when they’re startled by something. Like a human or another perceived threatening creature. Fear is not their only drive for running however. When turtles have been stuck on land for some time and they finally spot a body of water, you can then be graced to see the little guys sprinting with all of their might to get to take a cool dip at last.

Kinda like how people who get to the beach will sometimes make a mad dash for the ocean, turtles are the same only a bit slower.

How Fast Can Turtles Swim in the Water?

While turtles may not be that fast running on land, the water is a completely different matter entirely.

That little shelled guy, you might beat on land walking at a brisk pace. Oh boy get them in the water and depending on the species even the fastest human swimmer might have a tough time in a match up. Turtles probably love swimming more than anything else, perhaps even food. And they’ve been doing it constantly since they were newly hatched out of the their mothers eggs.

In fact new born baby turtles can on average swim about 25 miles in a 30 hour period. Thats almost a marathons worth of swimming every single day. And these are just the babies who you could probably fit several of them just in the palm of your hand, which just makes it all the more impressive. Knowing this you can start to see why their might just be no competition between a turtle and human in the water.

Sea turtles lead the pack when it comes to fast-swimming turtles

For the fully mature adult turtles their speed just goes up from their. Your average adult turtle swims at about a pace of 10 to 12 mph and thats just when their swimming normally. This goes for your pond and stream turtles that are still not htat large. Just maybe half a foot to a full foot for the big ones.

But the undoubted kings and queens of the water goes to mighty sea turtles. Green sea turtles can swim up to 20 mph and the marine green turtle can swim up to 300 miles in a ten day period. But the fastest water speed record with turtles go to a sacred pacific leatherback which clocked in at a whopping 22 mph. If these speeds don’t seem that impressive keep in mind that these sea turtles can weigh several hundred pounds.

Why Are Turtles Slow?

Turtles are slow for three reasons:their way of obtaining food, the protection of their shell, and for safety reasons.

Most turtles, while they are omnivorous, when in the wild will only get to eat meat when they get lucky. They primarily survive off of plants and insects. To get such food they don’t need to be very fast. So one reason why turtles are on the slower side is they just don’t really have to rush to catch their food that often.

The shell of a turtle is like their castle, quite literally. Inside it they are safe from most dangers, While being very devastating even a car running over their shell will still not completely destroy it. Even alligators can be intimidated by a turtles shell. So they are very safe just by being what they are, a turtle.

But this protection has a negative cost and that is their speed. A turtles shell can make up roughly a quarter to a third of a turtles body weight. That would be like a 150 pound human carrying a 40 to 50 pound pack on their back. So while their shell makes them safe it also weighs them down a lot. Not enough that they cant have bursts of speed from time to time, but enough that they cant run for prolonged periods.

The third reason turtles are slow is that they can also be somewhat clumsy on land. The feet of most turtles are webbed. While webbed feet give a great speed boost in the water they can make it hard to move on land. A turtle that moves too fast over a rough patch could potentially flip over or fall and hurt itself. So for turtles a slow steady pace is preferred, safety over speed is their motto. That is if they had mottos.

Fastest Turtle Species

The fastest turtles on land probably are soft-shelled turtles. Because of the nature of their shell nature gave them a bit more of a boost of speed than that f other turtles. If you surprise a soft shelled turtle in the wild they are more than capable of making a mad dash for safety.

While the fastest turtles in the water are definitely sea turtles. With the leatherback sea turtle probably being the fast amongst different sea turtle species. A sea turtle can swim over 20mph while in the water and some species can swim for hundreds of miles in only a week or so.

Slowest Turtles Species

While most turtles can’t run very fast and are quite slow, there are some turtles that are much slower than others.

Probably the slowest turtle on land would be the humble gopherus tortoise, who snails along as slow as 0.13 mph, though sometimes they can rev their engines up to three times as fast at 0.3 mph. While they are the slowest their are several more notable mentions.

Box turtles are a primarily terrestrial turtles, their land lovers and don’t swim very well at all. While their shells have the most amazing protective abilities their run speed clocks in quite low. While in a mad dash, probably for a yummy treat, they can get up to 0.25 mph. But that’s only when they’re excited, a more average speed would be 0.17 mph which puts them just slightly faster than the gopherus tortoise.

The north american cooter turtle is a bit faster but not by much. these little fellows travel at about 1.07 mph. This is quite bit faster than the humble box turtle and gopherus tortoise but not by much.

Funny Fact: Turtles in Space

Did you know that turtles have been into space? Yeah, that’s right, space turtles are a very real thing. In the early days of national space programs animals were sometimes sent into space as a test before human were sent.

Amongst these early animal space travelers were turtles. Both space missions by the Iranian Kavoshgar-3 and the early Soviet Soyuz 20 both sent turtles into low earth orbit. Were looking at about a 17000 mph speed. So if vehicles are includes those were some very fast turtles. Fortunately all the turtles survived their epic journey and were able to return to their homes on earth, but now with quite a story to tell their turtle comrades.

But even these missions were topped by two noble Russian tortoises traveling aboard the Soviet Zond 5 spacecraft in 1968. These Russian tortoises traveled all the way to the moon. They didn’t land on it however buy simply made a lunar orbit before returning back to earth. Depending upon how you want to count, these Russian tortoises may have traveled both farther and faster than any other turtle throughout history.

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