Can Turtles Run? [How Fast + Why Are Turtles Slow]

Image of turtles running towards water

Turtles can run, but not very fast. They run at an average speed of 3 to 4 mph, and the speed varies by turtle species. Soft-shelled turtles are the fastest turtles on land, while Box turtles and Cooter turtles are the slowest turtles. All turtle species are a lot faster in water than on land.

So, turtles cannot run fast, but what is the reason behind it? Let’s understand that now.

Why Can’t Turtles Run Fast?

Turtles, unlike other animals, have a different body structure.

You need to closely examine a turtle’s body to better understand why turtles can’t run fast.

Turtles have a heavy shell on their body. The shell is an integral part of their body and is not detachable.

Turtles’ bones are connected to their shell. They have tiny legs compared to their massive body.

Moreover, turtles’ front and back legs cannot stretch too far to run fast on land.

Their legs are designed in such a way that they can move faster in the water than on land.

Also, their legs have to accommodate the large carapaces. The heavy shell weighs them down.

Imagine yourself running with a heavyweight on your back. Can you run fast?

Or at least run at a pace anywhere near the speed at which you would run without any weight on your back? Not really.

The same is true for turtles. The heavy shell makes it difficult for turtles to run fast compared to other animals.

Nevertheless, their shell has a specific purpose, and so does their entire physique. They are more adapted to race underwater.

Hence, they swim at an excellent speed in water and can even beat some of the best swimmers.

Alright! Now that you know turtles cannot run fast like a hare or a cheetah, let’s understand why there are so slow.

Why Are Turtles Slow?

Turtles are slow due to various reasons. Most of the reasons are due to how they have evolved.

Besides, they need not have to be fast for survival. Their slowness is by no means a hindrance to their existence.

Following are some of the main reasons due to which turtles are slow:

  1. Do not hunt for food: Turtles do not have to hunt for food like other animals in the wild. Most of the turtles are omnivores. They survive by eating plants and meat. In their habitat, turtles have access to a lot of plants and vegetation on which they can survive easily. Besides, they even eat small fish and insects that they easily catch underwater. So, speed never becomes a restraint for the wild turtles.
  2. Have shell as protection: The other primary reason due to which turtles are slow is that turtles don’t have to run away from predators for their survival. They have a hard and tough shell on their back. The shell acts as protection and makes them immune to attack by predators. Besides, turtles often hide their vulnerable body parts, mainly their head, tail, and limbs, inside the shell. Being heavily armored, turtles simply pull themselves inside the shell to ward off any attacks. Also, the shell is very hard, and not all animals can break it easily.
  3. Physique: The physique of a turtle is yet another reason for them to be slow. Since turtles have a heavy shell on their back, it’s not easy for them to sprint or run for prolonged periods. The heavy shell weighs them down. Besides, their legs are short as compared to their entire body structure. Also, most of the turtles’ feet are webbed, meaning they are more suited to swim underwater than to run on the land. Due to the webbed feet, they are a bit clumsy on land. Even if they try to run, chances are that they may flip over and hurt themselves in the process.
  4. Slow metabolism: Turtles, like most cold-blooded animals, have a slow metabolism. Slow metabolism has an impact on their speed. Besides, slow metabolism is one of the reasons for their long life. Since turtles are slow-moving and relaxed creatures, they burn their energy very slowly.

How Fast Do Turtles Run On Land?

The speed at which turtles can run varies by species. Some turtle species run faster compared to other turtle species.

Nevertheless, the turtles run at an average speed of 3 to 4 mph.

Turtles cannot win a sprinting race, but they can cover a good distance by running with a lot of patience.

Turtles usually do not run unless some predator threatens them, and they are not able to hide.

Fear is the primary reason that compels them to run.

Also, if a turtle gets stuck on land for a long time and cannot find a waterbody nearby, it can get tired and exhausted.

In such a case, if the turtle then sees a waterbody, it may sprint towards it with all its energy.

Let’s now see how fast two of the slowest turtles species can run.

How Fast Can Box Turtles Run?

Box turtles primarily thrive on land. The average speed of box turtles is 0.17 mph.

However, they may run as fast as 0.25 mph if they have to cover a short distance. 

Box turtles do not prefer to run away from predators. Instead, they will withdraw themselves in their shell for protection.

So, a box turtle does not roam around much. It hardly covers 100 yards in the entire day.

How Fast Can Cooter Turtles Run?

Cooter turtles are one of the largest pond turtles. They are mainly found in North America.

They swim much faster in water than they run on land. Their average speed on land is 1.07 mph.

They are quicker on the ground as compared to box turtles. However, there is not much of a difference in speed.

Okay! So, turtles are slow-moving creatures and do not come close to any other fast-moving animals in the wild, except for tortoises.

So, let us now see which are the fastest and slowest species of turtles.

Which Turtle Species Are The Fastest?

The fastest turtles on land are the soft-shelled turtles. These turtles can move their limbs faster than other species.

Also, their shells are soft, flat, and rubbery as compared to the other species of turtles.

So, the light-weight shell gives them an added advantage, and they can move faster on land.

They are not only fast runners on land; they are powerful swimmers too.

When we talk about speed underwater, sea turtles are the fastest amongst all.

The leatherback sea turtle is the fastest underwater amongst all other turtle species.

A sea turtle can swim over 20 mph underwater, and some species of sea turtles can even cover hundreds of miles in a week.

Which Turtles Species Are The Slowest?

In general, turtles are very slow as compared to other animals. The average speed of a turtle on land is 3 to 4 mph.

However, some species of turtles are slower than the average speed.

Box turtles are one such species. They are terrestrial turtles and don’t swim very well in water.

However, they are not fast on land either.

The average speed of a box turtle on land is 0.17 mph, and they can increase their speed up to 0.25 mph sometimes.

The other species of turtles that are slow are the Cooter turtles.

The average speed of these turtles is 1.07 mph, which is only slightly faster than the box turtles.

Final Thoughts

Different species of turtles run at different speeds. The average speed of a turtle is 3 to 4 mph on land.

However, some turtle species like the box turtles and Cooter turtles run a lot slower than that.

Though turtles cannot outrun any animals apart from a sloth, which is the slowest, they still live a very long life due to their other characteristics.

Speed really does not matter to turtles for their survival in the wild.

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