Can Turtles Swim? (How, How Fast, And Which Turtles Can Swim?)

Image of a man swimming

Turtles are beautiful and entertaining creatures. They spend the majority of their time in the water since they are aquatic species. So, can turtles swim just like a fish?

Yes, turtles can swim. They have webbed feet and a streamlined body structure that helps them in swimming. While swimming, they extend their legs that have the webbed feet to paddle themselves through the water. They swim for some time and then come up to the water surface to breathe air.

As turtles are aquatic reptiles, they spend most of their lives in the water. Swimming thus becomes an everyday activity for them. Now, you might be wondering how turtles swim exactly, and if they swim fast enough because they are slow creatures when it comes to walking. Let’s talk about all of these and more now.

How Do Turtles Swim?

Sea turtles are almost entirely aquatic. Male turtles normally do not leave the sea their entire life. While female turtles come to the land to lay eggs. Otherwise, they also usually stay in the water all the time.

Sea turtles have flippers instead of webbed feet, unlike freshwater turtles. Due to these flippers, sea turtles are able to swim through the water at a very good speed. Using the front flippers, they perform up and down motion to generate thrust. Whereas the back feet are not used for propulsion, but they are used as rudders for steering.

Amphibious turtles swim by using all their four feet. They swim similar to how dogs paddle in the water. They swim with the feet on the left and right side of the body, providing thrust alternatively. Their feet are webbed and often have long claws.

Just like other aquatic species, the red-eared slider turtles love water too. They make use of their four legs to drive themselves through the water.

Big turtle species, such as the Snapping turtles, hardly swim. They prefer to walk along the bottom of the lake or river. Large turtles swim less in comparison to small turtles.

While the majority of the turtles have webbed feet, some turtle species, such as the pig-nosed turtles, have true flippers. These species swim just the way the sea turtles swim with the help of their flippers.

Now that you know turtles can swim, the question is, how fast can they swim? Can they swim at the same speed as the fish? Let’s understand that part as well.

How Fast Can A Turtle Swim?

When it comes to swimming, turtles swim faster than they can walk. But, they do not swim faster than fish. In normal circumstances, turtles cruise at around 0.9 to 5.8 mph (1.4 to 9.3 km/hr).

However, when they are frightened, their speed increases. They swim up to 22 mph, which is equivalent to 35 km/hr.

Sea turtles swim faster as compared to freshwater turtles. This is because they have flippers that improve their speed in the water. Whereas freshwater turtles have webbed feet and hence cannot swim as fast as the sea turtles.

Alright! That was all about how adult turtles swim and how fast they can swim. But what about the baby turtles? Do they swim? And, are there any specific things that you should take care of so that your pet baby turtle can swim without any problem?

Let’s talk about that now.

Related Further Reading:

Can Baby Turtles Swim?

Just like adult turtles, baby turtles can also swim. Being young, they are more sensitive. So they cannot swim in deep water right after they are born.

If you have a baby turtle as a pet, you need to take care of certain things. The water in the aquarium should not be too deep or too shallow for it. A baby turtle will prefer an environment wherein it can swim in the water and also take rest on the land at the same time.

You need to ensure that the water in your aquarium has the right depth. The water in the tank should be at least one inch deeper than the width of your baby turtle’s shell.

Providing such an environment will ensure that your baby turtle can swim easily in the water. Once the turtle grows up, it can swim in deep water with ease.

Okay! Now you know baby turtles can swim in shallow water, and once they grow up, they feel comfortable swimming in deep water.

So now, let’s see if all turtle species can swim.

Can All Turtles Swim?

Aquatic turtles spend most of their time in the water, either swimming or eating food. However, they often come on the land for basking.

All aquatic turtles can swim. Aquatic species, like the sea turtles and the pig-nosed turtles, have flippers. They use their flippers for swimming very swiftly.

Other freshwater turtles, like the red-eared sliders, have webbed feet. They use all their four legs to propel themselves through the water.

Snapping turtles and other big species of turtles hardly swim. They usually walk along the bottom of the lake or river. Also, large turtles swim less than other small turtles.

That was about marine and freshwater turtles. But what about Box turtles? Since they live more on land than in water, are they capable of swimming?

Interesting Further Reading:

Can Box Turtles Swim?

Box turtles are terrestrial species that live on land. They thrive best in moist, forested areas with a lot of bush. They are not aquatic and so do not spend much time in the water.

Box turtles can swim, but they are not adapted to swimming. So they look clumsy while swimming. Also, they do not swim as swiftly as marine turtles.

The body of box turtles is also not adapted to swimming. They have individual toes on their feet, and they are short. So they are not suitable for swimming.

You will find box turtles swimming on top of the water, mainly in lakes, creeks, ponds, and rivers where the water is not too deep. They occasionally swim when they have to cross a small creek and go to the other side of the creek.

If the water is deep, they simply sink to the bottom and sit down.

Now, mostly all species of turtles can swim except some species that thrive more on land. But, is there is any possibility that a turtle can drown while swimming?

Can Turtles Drown While Swimming?

Turtles being aquatic or semi-aquatic species generally do not drown while swimming. They are well-adapted to swimming for long hours and distances.

However, turtles can drown while swimming if they get stuck underwater and fail to come to the surface to breathe air.

Another reason for drowning could be that their legs get wrapped in underwater plants, or they get stuck under an object that is submerged deep in the water.

For more information on drowning of turtles, read our comprehensive guide on can turtles drown.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Turtles Swim In The Pool? Whether turtles can swim in a pool or not entirely depends on water quality. If the pool has adequate temperature and the pool setup resembles the natural habitat of the turtles, like that of a pond, then they can swim. However, if the pool water contains chemicals, then it can be toxic to the turtles. The turtles will feel irritation in their eyes and on the skin. This can prove fatal. So, if you have pet turtles and you put them in a pool, then make sure that the environment suits them.

Can Turtles Swim In Tap Water? Turtles can swim in tap water. However, it is not safe for them to swim in tap water as it contains chlorine and possibly fluoride, which is harmful to their health. For turtles to swim safely in tap water, the water should be de-chlorinated to kill the bacteria present in the water.

Recommended Further Reading:

To Sum Up…

Almost all marine turtle species can swim swiftly. Species such as the sea turtles and pig-nosed turtles have flippers, and so they are excellent swimmers.

Amphibious turtles and other freshwater turtles, like the red-eared sliders, swim with the help of their four legs. They use their legs to push themselves through the water.

Some turtle species, such as the Box turtles, cannot swim properly and look clumsy when they swim.

Snapping turtles and other big turtles hardly swim. Large turtles swim very less as compared to the smaller ones.

Baby turtles can swim in shallow waters. However, they find it difficult to swim in deeper waters.

Turtles swim at a speed of 5.8 mph. However, when they get frightened, they swim at 22 mph.

It is dangerous for turtles to swim in pool water and tap water due to the chemicals and bacteria present in the water, which is harmful to their well-being.