How Fast Can Turtles Run? What Makes Them Run?

how fast can turtles run

Turtles and tortoises are known for their slow and steady pace; however, have you ever wondered how slow they can be? How fast can turtles run?

Can they really run at all? If so, how fast can they run?

As a matter of fact, Turtles are good runners only when the right moment comes; they can run at a speed of 3-4 mph (5 to 6.5 km/hr). It may not seem like an actual speed; however, considering the turtle’s physiology, it is pretty good. The rate at which they can run varies from species to species.

Turtles are swift and agile in water; they can swim 22 miles/hr (35 km/hr).

Turtles move faster than tortoises, even on land; tortoises move at a rate of 0.13 to 0.3 miles/hour (0.2 to 0.5 km/hr). 

How fast can turtles run? Or why can’t they run fast? Let’s break it down!

How Fast Can Turtles Run?

First of all, we need to understand the physiology of the species; when you scrutinize the body structure, we can acknowledge why they can’t run fast.
Turtles and tortoises have heavy armor; it is a fusion of 50 plus bones, ribs, and vertebrae. This shell limits the movement of their legs, cannot stretch far enough to run fast; the shell weight makes it even more challenging for them to move; besides, the fusion of bones, ribs, and vertebrae makes the shell even less flexible.
Nevertheless, the running speed of a turtle is dependent on the species. Some turtles, such as softshell turtles, are usually faster than others. They can run at 3-4 mph (5 to 6.5 km/hr). But turtles tend to run only in certain circumstances, as they are patient and steadier otherwise.
The tortoises are heavier than turtles; tortoises are land reptiles, and they don’t shed their scutes, unlike turtles; their shells are sturdier and making it the most befitting sanctuary in times of danger; of course, to rest and sleep. Consequently, they can run only at a rate of 0.13 to 0.3 miles/hour (0.2 to 0.5 km/hr).


Why do Turtles and Tortoises run?

We know speed is not their virtue; but, what triggers these relaxed slow-moving creatures to run suddenly? 

If you have a pet turtle or tortoise, you must be seeing them sprinting towards the food during mealtime.

However, in the wild, turtles or tortoises don’t run towards their food; they take it easy and slow.

When they are threatened, the general tendency is to retreat into their shells; however, sometimes, they tend to run when they feel threatened by something. 

But that’s not the only situation the turtles run. After spending a long time in the land tired and exhausted, yearning to be in the water, when they are approaching a water body, they cannot contain and tend to run towards the water; I guess it’s pretty relatable with us, human tendency; when we are closer to the finish line of goals, we tend to rush impatiently with an excitement. 



Why are Turtles Slow?

Let us be clear the speed is not the strength of a turtle or a tortoise. Being slow has not affected their existence; the species has survived and evolved for hundreds of millions of years. The species as it is today is the result of millions of years of evolutionary intelligence. 

Some of the reasons why the turtles and the tortoises are slow:

Protective shield

Turtles and tortoises have this distinctive feature, castle-like shell over their body; it simply acts as an excellent shield over their body, complex yet sturdy. Hence, turtles or tortoises stay safe inside their shell. They don’t need to run to protect themselves from their predators; turtles pull their heads, legs inside their tough armor when they sense any danger. 

Most animals can’t break into the turtle shell; of course, it’s not 100% protection; some animals such as honey badgers on the land and sharks and whales in the sea can break the turtles’ shell.

Physiology Built

Their shell affects their speed; yes, their shell weighs a lot more than their body weight, and walking with the burden of such a hefty load makes them slow enough. A turtle’s shell can easily weigh about a quarter to one-third of its body weight; it’s like asking someone weighing 140 pounds (63 kg approx.) to carry 45 pounds (20 kg approx.) and run; it’s something like you running with your backpack.

So, while this armor protecting them has its consequence, it weighs on them, thus hindering their speed.

Apart from that, their legs are a wee bit shorter for them to stretch out of the shell and run fast. Besides, turtles’ feet are webbed, befitting them for swimming in the water than running on the terrain. These webbed feet make it a little bit awkward while running on the land. If you have a pet turtle, you might have noticed when they try to move fast, they flip, which might look funny for us onlookers, but not at all funny for them.

Means of obtaining food

Turtles’ slow motion does not stop them from finding their food. Both turtles and tortoises are omnivorous, and they need to have a mixed diet of plant and animal matters. However, in the wild, it is pretty tough for turtles to get meaty treats regularly. 

So, primarily they live on plants or insects; to find insects or plants, turtles don’t require to move fast. There is no need to rush towards food as they can easily graze on their vegetation while being lazy and easy. Underwater, they can find small fish as they are agile in the water. After all, their characteristics are not like those predators that need to chase their prey.

Slow Metabolism

Slow metabolism is the reason for their long life; however, it consequently affects their speed in their movement on the land. Turtles are ectotherm, and they rely on an external heat source; hence, the cold environment diminishes their metabolism to diminish the need for oxygen demand and consumption. The slow metabolism makes them move slowly and burn less energy and calories.


How Far Can a Turtle Travel?

Well, not all turtles have nature and the ability to travel much. However, some species love to travel anywhere and everywhere they can.

As soon as a sea turtle reaches its maturity, it starts traveling long distances for breeding migration. This migration can range up to hundreds or thousands of miles, which can take several months. 

The longest ever recorded migration of an adult green sea turtle was 3472.4 miles (3979 km) from Chagos to Somalia. Besides, a leatherback turtle travels up to 9942 miles (16000 km) or more in a year to look out for their favorite snack jellyfish. Also, loggerheads usually traverse a distance of 8078 miles (13,000 km) in search of food.

But when it comes to land turtles, they are not as much a travel lover as the aquatic ones. Giant turtles hardly move up to 60 meters within an hour. 

A box turtle tends to travel up to only a hectare or 2.5 acres or 107639 square feet in its lifetime. Mostly, they prefer to stay near and around their home range. But there are certain specimens, which strive to travel in a single direction only and never look back! Strange, right!


Fastest Turtle in the World

When it comes to the speed of turtles, there are some species, which have a higher pace than others. Softshell turtles are the fastest moving turtles; obviously, they carry less weight than the other turtles, and the softshell let them stretch their legs much more than those with rigid shells. 

Although generally, the turtle’s speed is said to be 3 miles/hour (5 to 6.5 km/hr) when agitated, the softshell turtles can sprint at a rate of 15 miles/hour (24 km/hr approx.).

With the space studies, most animals get the privileges to travel space, and the turtles were one of the species to travel to space; so, these turtles have traveled at a speed of 23000 miles/hr (37,000 km/hr).


Related readings:

What do turtles do in the winter? Do they hibernate?

Can a turtle drown?

Are turtles born with their shells? Can they live without their shell?


Which Turtle Species is the Slowest?

The slowest turtle on the land is the Gopherus tortoise; they move in a sloth-like motion with a speed of only 0.13 mph. However, even box turtles are speedier than Gopherus. In fact, in a mad dash, Gopherus turtles can get up to a maximal speed of 0.25 mph.

But do you know giant tortoises are even slower than turtles? Well, that’s what identifies them, apart from their shells! 

Related Questions:

The Fastest Turtle Species on Land

The turtle species that can be considered as the fastest on land are probably the soft-shelled ones. Since their shells are soft, they have a reduced weight on their body, which gives them a bit more speed than the other variants of turtles. 

The softshell turtles can surprise with their speed when they are startled or frightened.


The Fastest Turtle Species in the Water

The fastest ones in the water are sea turtles. With their leatherback shell, sea turtles are the fastest among the other water species. They are not only the fastest but also the largest turtles on earth.  

Well, a sea turtle can usually swim over 20 mph speed while they are in the water. Some of them can even swim for hundreds of miles in a week. 

Leatherback turtles are great divers; they can dive as deep as 4000 feet (1200 meters) like whales.


How Fast Can a Box Turtle Run?

Box turtles essentially thrive on land and are known to be the fastest ones. They can usually run with 0.25 mph (0.4 km/hr)speed to cover a short distance. On the other hand, their average walking speed is 0.17 mph (0.27 km/hr). 

At times of danger, they don’t rely on their speed to protect themselves from predators; instead, they rely on their armor to protect themselves from predators by retracting. 

Box turtles can roam about 50 to 70 yards (40 to 70 meters) in a day, at the most 100 yards (91 meters) on a day of exception. Anyways, they generally spend their whole lives within 270 yards (250 meters) from the seedbed where they were born. That’s why it is wise not to move the box turtle from their habitat.


How Fast Can Cooter Turtles Run?

Cooters are aquatic species from North America; are one of the largest pond turtles. Though they usually do not like to travel much in the water, they have a walking speed of 1.07 mph (1.72 km/hr), which is relatively faster than box turtles. 

Still, they are pretty slower than other aquatic turtles. However, they swim faster than they run on the land. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *