Turtles have had a reputation as a slow animal for centuries. But is this really the case, can turtles actually run?
Yes, turtles can run. However, they cannot run very fast – a turtle running will still be pretty slow hence the reputation of turtles as a very slow animal.
This article will explain why turtles can’t run fast and cover the speed that turtles can run.
Why Turtles Can’t Really Run?
Turtles can’t really run for a few different reasons. All these reasons come back to the fact that turtles do not have a body that is well adapted to running.
The first reason turtles can’t really run is that they have a huge, heavy shell on their back. This would be the equivalent of strapping a 60 pound pack to your back and attempting to run. You could run, but not for very far nor very long.
A similar thing applies to turtles.
The other reason turtles can’t run is due to the anatomy of their legs. Basically, their legs are really short and can’t fully extend. This makes it impossible for turtles to run fast.
Think about it, can you really run fast if you can’t fully extend your legs?
No, you can’t run very fast without being able to extend your legs. It just isn’t possible. You can’t do it and neither can turtles.
Now, combine having short legs, a small range of motion in the legs, and a massive weight on your back and you understand why turtles can’t run fast.
The next section will go into more detail on why turtles not only can’t run fast, but why they are so slow.
Why Are Turtles So Slow?
Yes, turtles are the stereotype of slowness. From the story of the tortoise and the hare to the symbol on your lawnmower for when you walk slow.
Turtles are associated with slowness.
The reason turtles are slow is actually quite simple – turtles don’t have any need to be fast, so they have evolved to be a slow animal. Here are some of the reasons turtles don’t have to be fast.
Their Shell Protects Them
First, turtles have a shell for a reason – it protects them. Some animals like deer use their speed to evade predators.
Turtles don’t do that.
They simply “turtle up” inside their shell when they get frightened by a predator. Why run away when you have a rock hard shell that protects your entire body?
Exactly. Welcome to life as a turtle.
Turtles also have webbed feed. This makes them very strong swimmers.
Unfortunately, webbed feed make moving fast on land somewhat difficult.
Turtles Eat Plants and Small Fish
Some animals evolved to be extremely fast as a requirement to hunt their food. Cheetas being a good example of one such animal.
Turtles, on the other hand, do not have to be fast. They eat vegetables and fruit while on land, which does not require much speed.
Now, turtles are actually pretty fast swimmers. All the things that make them slow on land like short legs and webbed feet make them incredibly fast in the water. And that is where they get a lot of their meat by hunting animals like small fish.
Finally, turtles are a cold blooded animal. This means they don’t use all that much energy when they aren’t moving.
This is important because it allows turtles to just sit around doing nothing, so they don’t have to do all that much food gathering. Finding food obviously requires some modicum of speed, which (again) turtles do not have.
To summarize, turtles have a whole lot of traits that make them very good swimmers in the water. These adaptations, however, make them very slow while on land.
The good thing for turtles is that they do not really have to be fast on land to survive. They eat plants on land and spend most of the their land time just sitting around doing nothing because they are cold blooded.
In that sense, turtles are more of a sea animal that has a limited ability to move around on land when necessary. They really are a fascinating animal when you think about it.
The Fastest Turtles
There are a few turtles that are actually fast. These turtles won’t outrun a cheetah, deer, or even human. But they got more speed than the average turtle.
What type of turtles are these?
Soft shell turtles are the type of turtles that can move the fastest. The reason for this is actually quite simple.
Soft shell turtles have a much lighter shell than hard shell turtles. They also have a little more flexibility in their legs that allows them to move a tiny bit faster.
So, how fast can the fastest turtles move on land?
About 3 miles an hour at their top speed, which is about how fast a human walks (1 mile per 20 minutes = 3 mph). Soft shell turtles can’t run for very long, though.
With that in mind, you will rarely ever see a turtle moving 3 mph. The turtle is likely in some stressed state if it is moving that fast.
The Slowest Turtles
Most turtles are slow. But the slowest turtle is the box turtle with an average speed of 0.15 miles per hour and a running speed of 1/4 mph.
Yes, that is insanely slow.
Box turtles do not run away from predators, ever. They simply hide in their shell and wait for the predator to leave them alone. These turtles also do not really move that much in a day. It is rare for a box turtle to move more than 200 yards (180 meters) in a day.
That covers it for whether or not turtles can run.
Yes, turtles can run at speeds ranging from 0.25 mph to up to 3 mph depending on the breed. Soft shell turtles run the fastest while land based hard shell turtles like box turtles move the slowest.
That said, you will likely never see a turtle running. It is simply more efficient for a turtle to hide in its shell than it is for it to run away from a predator.