How Fast Can a Turtle Run? (Detailed Guide)

Turtles are reptiles characterized by having their body encased in a bony shell. They are grouped into aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial turtles. While it might be true that turtles are slow, this is only on land. They move faster when swimming.

On average, turtles run at between 3 and 4 mph. This speed varies from one species to another. The extremely slow turtle species move at a maximum speed of 0.3 mph and 0.13 mph at their slowest. In water, turtles are faster, and a sea turtle can swim at 22 mph speed. 

There are over 360 turtle species worldwide, and all have continued to exist despite their low running speeds. Let’s have an in-depth look at turtles running speed, the reason behind this, and a lot more on these creatures.

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Can a Turtle Run?

Even before we dwell on how fast a turtle is able to run, let’s find out; can a turtle run? The genesis of this question is understandable since turtles have always been depicted as some of the slowest moving creatures.

The truth is that turtles can actually run only that the moment needs to be right. Otherwise, they remain calm and steady. Their speed might seem too slow to be an animal’s running speed, but it is impressive, bearing in mind a turtle’s physiology.

How Do Turtles Run?

Turtles’ and tortoises’ running mechanism doesn’t differ significantly from their walking. They run by moving one or two limbs forward at a time and catch a firm grip of the surface. Next, these reptiles switch to the other limbs and repeat the process.

By moving a limb or two first, their body weight remains evenly distributed. No limb experiences extra pressure.

When running, the turtle’s limbs movement gets a bit quicker. Rather than dragging their body on the land as they do when walking, they move their limbs up and down. This up and down movement is what facilitates running.

How Fast Can a Turtle Run On Land?

The word turtle refers to both aquatic and terrestrial ones, while tortoises are land turtles. The speed at which a turtle or tortoise can run varies across species. Often, aquatic turtles are faster than terrestrial ones.

In general, turtles can run at an average speed of 3-4 mph, which is equivalent to 5-6 kph. Although they can’t sprint, turtles can cover a significant distance by running patiently. Some turtles have been known to cover thousands of miles in under one year.

Box turtles are land-dwelling. Their average running speed is 0.17 mph, but they can get to 0.25 mph if they only need to cover a small distance. Even though they can run, turtles often opt to retract in their protective shells if they perceive a threat. Due to this speed, a box turtle hardly covers more than 90 meters in a day.

Cooter turtles are faster than box turtles but still quite slow. These Northern Native turtles run on an average speed of between 1 mph and 1.07 mph on the land. However, being pond turtles, they swim faster than they run on land. Cooter turtles are some of the largest ponds inhabiting turtles.

As for musk turtles, they run at 0.2 mph on land. This speed can be attributed to their aquatic habitat adaptations that make it harder for them to move on land.

Wood turtles have the same running speed as box turtles, only reaching a speed of between 0.2 mph and 0.32 mph. However, these aquatic turtles are much faster in water.

On the other hand, softshell turtles are faster than all the above species. Like other sea turtles, the softshell species struggle walking on land. This is because their webbed feet are not highly effective for walking.

How Fast Can a Turtle Swim in Water?

While the running speed of turtles on land is not as impressive, these creatures can be significantly faster in water. In water, aquatic turtles are swifter than land turtles. Most land turtles can’t swim; they would drown after about 3 minutes in deep waters.

Sea turtles have flippers, while freshwater turtles have webbed feet. Because of the flippers, sea turtles swim faster than their freshwater counterparts. Both types can swim in the water by using their feet as paddles.

Female aquatic turtles leave the sea to lay eggs on the beach or land. However, male aquatic turtles do not leave the water in their entire life unless to bask, which is rare.

In terms of swimming, turtles are significantly better at swimming than walking. On average, and under normal circumstances, a turtle swims at 0.9 mph – 5.8 mph. But when threatened, this speed significantly increases. Under threat, turtles can swim at up to 22 mph, which is equivalent to 35 kph.

Aquatic baby turtles are born swimmers. Hatchlings can swim at an average of 0.8 mph. This improves with time as they get used to the aquatic environment.

Why Do Turtles Run?

Now that we know turtles are not great runners, what makes them run instead of sticking to their slow-moving pace? The main reasons for upon spotting food in captivity, running from a predator, and running towards a water body when tired.

Below we have a detailed look as to why turtles run.

1.      Food

Food is vital for any animal’s survival and well-being. If you have kept a pet turtle, then you might have figured that a pet turtle will run when it’s feeding time.

Contrary to the pets, wild turtles do not run towards food. They fend for themselves, and as such, they make easy and slow moves not to alarm their prey. In the wild, turtles prey on small fish, mosquitoes, worms, snails, small insects, and aquatic vegetation.

2.      Escaping Predators

When a turtle spots a predator, the most natural response is to retract its head, tail, and limbs inside its shell. However, in some cases, the turtle will instead run when threatened.

Some turtles are also unable to retract inside their shells and use running as one of their defense mechanisms. Other self-defense mechanisms by different turtle species include biting, emitting a stinky smell, hiding, and burrowing.

3.      Soaking In Water

After being on land for long on a sunny day, the turtle is likely to be exhausted. Most will run upon spotting a water body, yearning the effect of soaking themselves in water. This can be compared to the tendency of most humans to run towards the beach on a hot day. 

Why are Turtles So Slow?

Running is not one of a turtle’s strengths. Even with their slow speed, turtles have continued to exist, thrive, and even evolve over the years. After all, they do not require fast speed for survival.

Here are the main reasons why turtles are slow.

1.      Heavy Protective Shell

Turtles and tortoises carry a heavy shell that they can’t live without. The shell is infused with more than 50 bones, vertebrae, and ribs. While the shell is heavy and may seem like a bother to the animal, it still serves many vital functions.

A turtle’s shell acts as a defense mechanism against predators. It also protects the animals’ inner body parts and helps in heat absorption, PH balance, camouflaging, and body temperature, among other functions.

The shell’s weight and structure limit the turtles’ limbs movements. Turtles are unable to stretch their limbs far so to run faster. The weight of the shell also makes it even harder for the turtle to move the limbs.

In addition, the fact that the ribs, bones, and vertebrae are joined makes the reptile less flexible.

2.      Slow Metabolism

Like most reptiles, turtles are cold-blooded. This means that they are unable to produce heat to regulate their body temperature. The temperature depends on the surrounding environment. Cold temperatures reduce a turtles’ metabolism, thus reducing the necessity of oxygen and eating food.

Slow metabolism also means that turtles utilize the energy from food in a slow manner. The energy is delivered to its body at a slow speed. Therefore, they move slowly, using less energy and burning few calories.

On the positive side, slow metabolism is also part of the reason why turtles live for so long. It makes the reptile process aging and illnesses slower than other animals. It is no wonder that turtles live for long and can even outlive their keepers.

3.      Feeding

Most turtles are omnivores. They feed on plants and meat, with most species feeding more on meat when younger and reducing the meat to plants ratio as they mature. A balanced diet is vital to the animal’s survival. However, in the wild, turtles hardly get enough quantities of meat.

Wild turtles rely on aquatic vegetation and insects. Therefore, they do not need to run for their food. They may find small fish in aquatic bodies, but even in water, they don’t chase their prey. Turtles are opportunistic feeders.

Besides, this reptile is higher in the food chain. Even though turtles have many predators, few manage to kill this animal due to its hard shell.

4.      Physique

A turtles’ shell is vital to its survival. In fact, a turtle or tortoise can’t live without its shell. Even so, this important armor is quite heavy. The shell weighs more than the animal’s body weight carrying about a third of the total body weight.

The turtle’s shell weighs down on the reptile, making it move slowly and running quite slow.

In addition, a turtles’ limbs are short. The length makes it harder for the turtles to stretch their limbs and run fast. Further, the feet are either flippers or webbed for aquatic turtles, making them more suitable for swimming instead of walking.

If you are a pet turtle owner, you might have taken note that if the turtle moves fast, it flips, which is not a good thing for this animal.

5.      Fear of Self-harm

The shell provides the turtle with much-needed protection from predators. However, turtles need also to take care of this shield.

When moving quickly or running, the turtles risk falling, which could lead to damage to the shell. The damage can lead to serious infections that can be fatal. To avoid this, turtles have evolved to moving slowly.

How Far Can a Turtle Travel?

Not all turtles are capable of traveling a lot. Even so, some fancy traveling and their bodies are capable of doing so.

When turtles get to the mating age, they start traveling for breeding. The breeding migration can be as close as a few hundred miles or as far as thousands of miles, and it might take some months.

The longest breed migration on record was a green sea turtle that traveled for 3,472.4 miles between Chagos Islands to Somalia.

Leatherback turtles are known to bear the largest clutches of eggs and they move great distances for breeding. They travel for about 9,942 miles in one year looking for their favorite meal; a jellyfish.

Loggerheads are also known to travel for up to 8,078 miles looking for food.

On the other hand, terrestrial turtles do move around a lot. Box turtles barely cover 0.028 miles in a day. Luckily, they are able to compel the direction of their home using their great homing instincts.

Box turtles often prefer to roam near their home, spending their entire lives with a distance of 0.14 miles from where they are born.

Fastest Turtles

On land, the turtles with the best running speed are the soft-shelled species. There are 25 softshell turtle species, with the most common being the smooth softshell turtle, spiny softshell, and Florida softshell turtles. Owing to the structure of their shells, these turtles are able to move their limbs faster than other species. They can move at three mph on land.

In water, the fastest species are the leatherback sea turtles. They can swim at up to 22 mph and can cover hundreds of miles within a week.

Leatherback sea turtles grow big to about 6 inches. Since they are big, their flippers are also bigger and more developed. Therefore, they are more equipped to handle the challenges of swimming faster and for longer distances.

There are also other sea turtles that move fast in the water, even though not as fast as the leatherback sea turtle. They include the green sea turtle at 19 mph, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle at 17mph, Olive ridley sea turtle at 17 mph, Hawksbill sea turtle at 15 mph, flat-back sea turtle at 15 mph, and the long head sea turtle at 15 mph.

Slowest Turtles

The green sea turtle is the slowest turtle species around. They are slower on land than in water because it has to walk on flippers not adapted for land-dwelling.

Another slow turtle is the Giant tortoise which is the largest lifespan among turtles. They are mainly found in Galapagos and Seychelles islands and weigh as much as 350 kgs. Having heavyweight, the giant tortoise is extremely slow and hardly moves for 0.03 mph.

Their thick limbs also contribute to slow movement. With a slow speed, giant tortoises have adaptations that enable them to survive for up to a whole year without water or food. These adaptations include big internal storage for both food and water.

Turtles nest on beaches and land. Because of the slow speed, green sea turtle hatchlings are at risk of being eaten or harmed by predators as they move towards the ocean.

More Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Turtles are interesting creatures, and although their running speed might seem like a disadvantage, they have lived for millions of years like that.

Let’s now have a look at some of your most frequently asked questions.

·       Why are turtles slow on land but fast in water?

Turtles are not faster swimmers than fish. However, they swim faster than they walk. Their swimming speed ranges between 1 mph and five mph, depending on the species. This speed can be higher; in case the turtle is in danger.

These reptiles have either flippers or webbed feet that act as paddles. Front flippers are for propelling the turtle in a particular direction, while rear ones are for changing the direction.

Besides the limbs, another swimming adaptation is their streamlined bodies. The body structure allows them to cut through water easily and move with speed. Due to these adaptations, many turtle species are known to enjoy diving and swimming.

·       Are all turtles slow?

When compared to other aquatic animals, turtles can be considered significantly slow. However, species such as the leatherback sea turtle and softshell are some of the fastest in sea and land, respectively.

·       Are turtles the slowest creatures?

Turtles are slow even when running but, they are certainly not the slowest creatures on Earth. For birds, the American woodcock has a speed of 5 mph. When it comes to invertebrates, the Banana Slug is the slowest moving at 0.00138 mph.

On the other hand, the slowest fish is the Seahorse moving 0.01 mph.

Other extremely slow creatures include manate, Gila monster, Koala bear, Loris, starfish, 3-toed sloth, and the garden fish.

·       Why are turtles slower than most animals?

If you have been keen, you might have noticed that most animals always seem to be in a hurry, which is not the case for a turtle.

Turtles move slowly because they don’t need speed to survive. The heavy shell weighs down on the animal. In addition, their limbs are short, and their body also has a slow metabolism. Other reasons for the turtles being slow include fear of self-harm and slow metabolism.

·       Do turtles stop moving?

Yes, turtles stop moving due to a number of reasons. As cold-blooded animals, their activity reduces during cold seasons, especially in winter. While wild turtles go into a deep sleep till the temperatures improve, aquatic ones hibernate in water.

Pet turtles, on the other hand, don’t hibernate because their environmental temperature is controlled. As such, they hardly stop moving for long. If your pet turtle is not moving, it might be sick or dying; contact a vet immediately.


How fast can a turtle run? Well, this depends on the species. Even so, the running speed of a turtle might not seem like actual running when compared with other animals.

Turtles mainly run for food in captivity, when threatened or when they cite a water body after a long tiring walk. Otherwise, turtles maintain the slow-moving speed they are known for.

That turtles don’t have a high running speed is not a wonder. After all, they don’t need it to survive. Their diet and natural defense mechanism enable them to thrive with no need for speed. The fastest sea turtle is a leatherback, while the fastest land-dwelling turtles are the soft-shelled species.

We trust that you have now debunked the myth pertaining to turtles’ slow speed.

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