You already know the fable of the turtle, the rabbit, and their notable speed race. Or, if we look into the Greek side of things, that of Achilles and the turtle, which brings us to Zeno’s paradox.
The claim is that Achilles, who’s a famous Greek demigod, can never outrun the turtle. Given that the philosophical problem has many details to consider, we won’t get into that today.
What we will get into, though, is the turtle’s actual speed. Are these animals so slow that it’s worth using them to describe the notion itself of being slow? Let’s have a look!
Types of Turtles and Their Speeds
Turtles belong to the order Testudines and come with numerous shapes, sizes, behaviors, and capabilities.
When it comes to speed, we need to separate them into 3 different categories:
1. Sea Turtles
These species qualify as semi-aquatic reptiles because, although they spend their time in the water, they also use the land for various activities. These include basking in the sun, breeding and laying eggs, looking for fresh water to drink, etc.
When it comes to their overall speed, we need to look at the problem from 2 angles. One considers the turtles’ land speed, which only reaches 1-2 mph. The slow movement is understandable because these animals aren’t meant to run on land.
This is why they never go too far from the water whenever they decide to venture on land.
The situation is slightly different when it comes to swimming speed, as sea turtles sit between 1 and 6 mph when cruising. However, they can boost their speed dramatically when in danger and are capable of reaching up to 20-24 mph.
Apparently, their conservation instinct is the best energy source they have.
2. Freshwater Turtles
Freshwater turtles aren’t that much different than sea turtles in terms of anatomical structure and physiology. They can match the sea turtles’ speed both on land and in the water, with a slight boost on land. Essentially, freshwater turtles can reach 2-4 mph on land, which is still low, but double what sea turtles can achieve.
When it comes to swimming, the two groups showcase similar speed capabilities, with the exception of agility and swimming prowess. It seems that freshwater turtles are generally more agile and capable of evading predators than sea turtles are. The top speed revolves around 22 mph in life-threatening situations, while the cruise speed sits at 1-12 mph on average.
An important note here, neither group can maintain their top speed for too long. Turtles will use their maximum swimming potential in short bursts, enough to get them out of harm’s way.
Turtles are stocky and heavy and are generally built for slow-burning marathons. This explains their tendency to migrate over large areas in search of food and mating partners.
3. Land Turtles
Land turtles are the least favored of the 3 groups. Their land speed is similar, only reaching up to 2 mph, maybe slightly more, depending on the situation. But, overall, these are the slowest-moving turtles because they don’t have proficient swimming capabilities to make up for it.
So, how do land turtles avoid predation if they can’t run? Don’t worry, Mother Nature took care of that. Despite their painfully-slow moving speeds, land turtles make up for it via their hard shells and improved self-defense abilities.
The hardened shells allow land turtles to survive predators better than semi-aquatic species.
Factors that Affect Turtle Speed
There are several factors that affect a turtle’s speeding abilities.
Size and Age
This should be an obvious one. The larger the turtle is, the slower it will move due to the extra mass dragging it down. The upside is that the larger the turtle is, the fewer the predators willing and capable of hunting it.
To consider the reverse as well, smaller turtles run faster but are more vulnerable to predators.
The age factor also weighs heavily in the balance. Older turtles move slower for 3 primary reasons:
- The extra weight that requires more energy to move around
- The lower metabolic rates that translate into lower energy levels
- The natural symptoms of aging, including stiff joints and arthritis
The same standards apply to semi-aquatic turtles as well. The difference is the actual moving speed, as water turtles have an average swimming speed higher than the running speed of land turtles.
Other than that, the same debilitating factors apply to them as well.
Environment and Terrain
The terrain itself can influence the turtle’s speed one way or the other tremendously based on its layout.
For instance, turtles that live in flatter regions with less terrain clutter move faster than those in rugged zones with a lot of vegetation, rocks, and other ground elements.
When it comes to aquatic species, water turtles move faster in regions with fast currents than those in still waters.
Turtles are reptiles, which pretty much says everything about their activity level and the factors influencing it. Temperature is a critical component here because if the environmental temperature is too low, the turtles’ activity level will drop significantly. That’s because turtles tend to conserve energy in cold weather and move less and at slower speeds.
They become more active and move faster in warm environments or after finishing their basking routine.
The extra heat will boost the reptile’s blood flow and enhance its metabolism, imbuing it with more energy, at least for a while.
Fastest and Slowest Turtle in the World
This is a rather difficult-to-answer question due to the many factors influencing the answer. A turtle’s speed depends on numerous factors, like size, age, health, terrain, etc.
So, finding the extremes at both ends of the spectrum may not be exactly easy. However, there is a contender for each of the categories that are worth mentioning.
The title of the slowest turtle should go to the Galapagos giant tortoise. It was only natural that this title would come in the possession of the heaviest turtle on the planet. This giant can only move at speeds of up to 0.11 mph.
It’s safe to say that everything is a crawl. Fortunately, the animal makes up for its low movement speed in general armored protection. Adult Galapagos tortoises have no natural predators due to their size and extreme shell durability.
The fastest turtle has to be semi-aquatic. The green sea turtle takes this place as it is capable of swimming speeds of up to 22 mph. Sometimes slightly more, depending on how desperate the reptile is.
Turtles aren’t known for their speeds, but they aren’t the slowest animals in the world either.
They generally don’t require to be fast because their armored exoskeleton does all the protection for them.
So, is the myth of the slowing turtle true? You be the judge of that.