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Can Turtles Jump? How & How Far Explained

Codee Chessher

By Codee Chessher

an eastern box turtle on a pathway

The animal kingdom is chock full of athletic feats, from the speedy cheetah to the powerful lion, but many people don’t associate turtles with athletics. Can a turtle even jump? Sort of, but not in the way we jump or how cats pounce. Turtles aren’t fundamentally built for regular jumping or hopping, but they can skip or hop a few inches.

How often they jump and how far depends on the species. The snapping turtle is known to thrust itself forward in a sort of jump up to 3 or 4 inches, while tortoises never jump at all. Other medium turtles have been known to jump 1 to 3 inches, but it’s a pretty rare occurrence for turtles to jump in general. They simply don’t need to jump in 99.9% of situations, so they never evolved the ability.

If you’ve ever wondered about turtles jumping, you’re in the right place. We have all the info you need, from the factors limiting a turtle’s jumping ability, how fast they can run, and more. Read below for all the turtle details you could ever want to know.

Factors That Affect a Turtle’s Jumping Ability

Turtles in nature rarely ever need to jump in the way we jump, so their abilities are very limited in this arena. That said, there are a lot of factors at play, from species to age and more. Let’s check out a few of those below and explore how they affect your turtle’s jumping ability.

Red-eared turtle in a home terrarium
Image Credit: Liubov Sydorenko,Shutterstock

Factors Affecting a Turtle’s Jumping Ability:

  • Species: Snapping turtles can lunge a short distance, while box turtles are known for a short “vaulting” hop, and some other turtle species don’t jump at all in any way, like large tortoises.
  • Size: Small and medium turtles are the most able when it comes to jumping, while large turtles and tortoises are too heavy to jump in any meaningful way.
  • Age: Younger turtles are more active and physically capable of feats of agility than older, more sedentary turtles.
  • Motivation: Turtles rarely need to jump but are more inclined to do so for food or when escaping a predator in the wild.

Humans vs. Turtles Jumping

Turtles don’t jump like us. We bend our legs and press off the ground to achieve a jump, and our high centers of gravity are well-suited for moderate jumps of a foot or so for most folks. Turtles, on the other hand, have four limbs and a heavy shell. Not to mention evolution is against them here—they’re low, heavy, and not inclined to jump because it’s extremely hard to do for them.

A turtle jump is more methodical and takes them more preparation, though it may not seem like it. Turtles need a fairly level, smooth surface to grip, or else their jump is doomed before they even start. They dig in their rear legs, then the front legs, and use the combined force produced by all four limbs to “jump” or leap. Snapping turtles are known for using their neck in this endeavor, which helps their distance a bit.

a turtle on a rock
Image By: coloursinmylife, Shutterstock

Can Turtles Run? How Fast?

The softshell turtle has the dubious honor of being the fastest turtle on land, and they can reach speeds of 4 miles per hour! As we all know, turtles aren’t built for speed—look at their little stubby legs and heavy shells! Not to mention that old chestnut about the hare and the tortoise.

Most land turtles can’t run very fast at all, even in dangerous situations. They haven’t needed to develop the ability to run (or jump) because their main defense is their tough, sturdy shells. The freshwater snapping turtle is the most notable jumper of the bunch, but no turtle can really run in the way we envision running.

Sea turtles can swim pretty fast, though! Leatherback sea turtles, for example, have been measured swimming at speeds of up to 22 miles per hour, though they prefer to chill at the more relaxed speed of 2 to 7 miles per hour while letting the currents do their thing.

Conclusion

Turtles are fascinating creatures that sadly never developed the ability to jump. After all, they haven’t needed to because of their robust shells. At most, some snapping turtles can jump up to 3 or 4 inches, but the majority of turtles don’t jump except when absolutely necessary.


Featured Image Credit: Simply Photos, Shutterstock

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