The snapping turtle (Chelydridae) includes the common snapping turtle (Chelydra) and the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys) and while have powerful jaws and their bites are fast, what about the rest of their bodies? How fast can a snapping turtle run?
As it turns out, not very fast at all. Snapping turtles are very slow on land, with an average speed of about 0.4 to 4 miles per hour, and that only in short bursts. By comparison, the average human can run at speeds of approximately 6.5 miles per hour to 8 miles per hour.
That said, compared to other turtles, the snapping turtle is quite the speedster on land for short distances.
For aquatic turtles like the snapping turtle, swimming speed is a more relevant measure of agility than land speed. Female snapping turtles, for instance, might travel faster in water when seeking nest sites.
In water, it’s a whole different ballgame, and snappers are really quite fast. They can swim at speeds of 8 to 10 miles per hour, which is much faster than a human.
To get an idea of how much faster, consider this: Record-breaking swimmer Michael Phelps has a swimming speed of 6 miles an hour, so a snapper could still swim circles around an Olympic athlete!
This comparison highlights the impressive speeds of aquatic turtles like the snapping turtle, especially when considering their bite force and physical features.
This is a topic that deserves a closer look, so let’s talk about how fast a snapping turtle can run on land, as well as how it compares to a handful of other animals, and we’ll even throw in a quick primer on the species.
If you’re ready, then let’s start this race, and see how the snapping turtle rates at the finish line!
Table of Contents
Running Speed of the Snapping Turtle
While not among the elite of the ‘fastest turtles around’, the snapping turtle is quicker than a lot of other turtles on land and in water. Still, ‘quick’ for a turtle isn’t going to make the wind whoosh in their wake, it’s safe to that snapping turtles are still fairly slow-moving creatures.
The short legs and heavy frames of these turtles mean that their mobility is especially limited on land. For this reason, they do not move much both in the water and out of it. Instead, they are ambush predators and scavengers, relying on camouflage and lightning-quick strike speeds to help them catch their meals.
Some snappers, like alligator snapping turtles, have a wormlike appendage in their mouth. This acts like bait and attracts fish enough that they often swim right into the turtle’s open mouth.
On average, the snapping turtle reaches impressive speeds of 10 to 12 miles per hour (16-19 km per hour) when swimming. They have been known to also reach high speeds of 22 miles per hour (35 km per hour) when needed, which is quite impressive!
It’s important to note that the speed of snapping turtles, especially species like Macrochelys temminckii, the largest species of freshwater turtle, varies depending on environmental conditions.
You can read a great article later on snapping turtles and their swimming ability by visiting this page at Urban Fishkeeping.
The snapping turtle also has a long, muscular tail, and this and their webbed feet help them to achieve excellent swimming speeds. In the water, when a snapping turtle REALLY needs to move, they can do so with a speed that will surprise you.
The Snapping Turtle’s Speed On Land
According to information provided by Bruce Peninsula National Park, the snapping turtle is definitely nowhere near the fastest thing on land. Even in short bursts, just about every other animal is going to be faster, but against other turtle’s they can do pretty well.
The snapping turtle is known to reach speeds of 0.4 to 4 miles per hour when on land, although their average traveling gait is around 1.2 miles per hour. The average human, even one who is not very fit, should easily be able to outrun even the fastest snapper — just make sure they’re out of bite range!
The snapping turtle is aquatic, so it really doesn’t need to be quick on land. They are technically ‘semi-aquatic’ as well, once you get right down to it, as they can survive on land for hours, days, and even weeks.
Their habitat, often consisting of muddy bottoms and flat surfaces, like those found in Canada in provinces like Nova Scotia and across the United States which, suits their slow movement. Unlike the giant tortoise, another slow-moving species, snapping turtles have powerful tails and sharp claws that aid in swimming.
Still, the snapping turtle hardly even leaves their aquatic environments and males may spend their entire lives never emerging from the water once they’ve entered it. Mature females do leave their aquatic habitats, however, to nest a few times biennially.
Both genders may leave the water whenever they like, but if you spot one on land, it’s most often a female who is looking for a place to nest.
Unlike most freshwater turtles, the snapping turtle doesn’t leave its aquatic habitat even to bask, preferring instead to simply float up to the surface to bask in the sun right from the water. With it’s slow land-legs, this is the safest and most efficient way to do it.
Don’t assume that just because these turtles are slow that you can pick them up to help them across the street. Find out the right way to help (while keeping all of your fingers) in our informative article when you’re done here!
How Fast can a Snapping Turtle run in Comparison to Other Animals?
To get a sense of how quickly the snapping turtle can run, we can compare it to other animals (including humans) to give you a better idea of their speed by virtue of the contrast. Let’s take a look!
Box turtles include North American box turtles (Terrapene), and Asian box turtles (Cuora). North American box turtles belong to the genus Terrapene, while Asian box turtles belong to the genus Cuora.
Some North American box turtles include the common box turtle (Terrapene carolina), the Coahuilan box turtle (Terrapene coahuila), and the Mexican box turtle (Terrapene carolina mexicana or Terrapene Mexicana).
Some Asian box turtles you may have heard of include the Chinese box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata) and the Malaysian box turtle (Cuora amboinensis). So, how do they rate speed-wise?
Box turtles are very slow in comparison to snapping turtles, as they have an average speed of about 0.17 miles per hour. In short bursts, they can reach a speed of 0.25 miles per hour, so they really don’t even come close to snapping turtles when it comes to moving on land.
In case you’re curious, Box turtles are land turtles and they get their name from their ability to retract their head, tail, and limbs inside of their shell and to close it off completely. They can do this because their shells are hinged!
While we’re on the subject of box turtles and snappers, you can see how they compare in our guide when you’re done here!
Tortoises are reptiles of the family Testudinidae and despite having a different name, these reptiles are also considered turtles. In essence, all tortoises are turtles but not all turtles are tortoises.
It’s an important factor to note that the average weight of snapping turtles affects their speed, making them slower than smaller, more agile species like the desert tortoises.
Some other well-known tortoises include the Galapagos tortoise (Chelonoidis), Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca), leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis or Psammobates pardalis), sulcata (Centrochelys sulcata), marginated tortoise, red-footed tortoise, and the Kleinmann’s tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni).
You can also find the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), and the cutely-named pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri).
The fastest tortoise is the leopard tortoise, which can move at a speed of about 1 km per hour. This is based on the fastest tortoise ever recorded, who was known as ‘Bertie’. This tortoise reaches a speed of 0.28 meters per second, which is 1 km per hour ,or 0.6 miles per hour.
In comparison, the snapping turtle is still much faster, but the leopard tortoise could leave a box turtle in it’s dust.
Hares are mammals of the genus Lepus, endemic to North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Hares and rabbits belong to the same family – Leporidae.
Some common hares include Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus), European hare (Lepus europaeus), African savanna hare (Lepus victoriae), Indian hare (Lepus nigricollis), Burmese hare (Lepus peguensis), and Chinese hare (Lepus sinensis).
Now, despite what you’ve heard about them losing races to chelonians, Hares are very fast and reach speeds of 35 mph (56 km/h) over 90 meters and 50 mph (80 km/h) over 20 meters.
In this instance, the snapping turtle doesn’t stand a chance at beating the hare in a race, unless the animal gets within biting range. In THAT case, it is unlikely that even the hare could move fast enough to avoid the snapper’s strike.
The fastest human recorded is Usain Bolt, who reached a speed of 23.4 miles per second or 37.6 km per hour over a distance of 100 meters.
The average non-athletic human move at a speed of 3.1 miles (5 km per hour) when walking and 11 miles per hour or 18 km per hour when running. Apart from some dogs such as sled dogs, humans are faster than every other species on land over long distances (over 40 kilometers or 25 miles).
As such, if you’re both on land, then you could easily run circles around a snapping turtle (but don’t do that, of course — you might trip!), but in the water the turtle could easily swim circles around you!
About the Snapping Turtle: A Quick Chelonian Primer
There are two kinds of snapping turtles and these are the common snappers (genus Chelydra) and the alligator snappers (genus Macrochelys). The common snappers include the Central American snapper (C. Rossignonii), South American snapper (C. Acutirostris), and common snapper (C. Serpentina).
All these three were once considered to be the same species of turtles and many sources still list them as such.
The alligator snapper genus, Macrochelys, includes the alligator snapper (M. Temminckii) and the Suwannee snapper (M. suwanniensis), and both were once considered to be a single species. The Suwannee snapper is the rarest — as it is only found in the Suwannee River system in Florida and Atlanta.
The common snapping is the smallest of the two, but has the longest neck. has a long neck. They reach a carapace length of 10 to 19 inches (25 to 47 cm) and a weight of 9 to 35 pounds (4 to 16 kg), and have distinctive tubercles on their neck and limbs.
They are generally dark in coloration with yellowish necks, limbs, and tails, and their carapace is dark brown to black, while their tails are saw-toothed.
The alligator snapper is rougher in appearance and has a short neck. It is also considerably larger than the common snapper, reaching a carapace length of 31 to 40 inches (79 to 101 cm) and a weight of 154 to 176 pounds (70 to 80 kg).
They also have tubercles on their neck and limbs and are dark in color, with coloration ranging from tan to black.
The common snapper is omnivorous and eats a wide range of foods – pretty much anything it can fit in its mouth. They normally hunt aquatic animals, both invertebrates and vertebrates, including fish, freshwater snails (mollusks), amphibians, and aquatic reptiles.
They even eat other aquatic turtles, though they are usually younger turtles, as well as nonaquatic animals that wander through or get close enough to their habitat, such as birds and small mammals. They feed on large amounts of vegetation.
The alligator snapper is mostly a carnivore, the lion’s share of its diet consisting mostly of other animals. It does eat a small amount of vegetation,, though.
Mostly, however, they feed on invertebrates and vertebrates including fish, freshwater snails (mollusks), crawfish (crustaceans), amphibians, and reptiles such as snakes and small alligators.
It isn’t only aquatic animals they feed on, either. Alligator snappers also enjoy water birds and small mammals such as mice, squirrels, and raccoons that wander a little too close to these adept ambush hunters.
Finally, Snappers are also scavengers and feed on substantial amounts of carrion, so it’s safe to say that there isn’t much that they WON’T eat, especially if it’s meaty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you outrun a snapping turtle?
Yes. Except in cases of extremely impaired mobility, humans can move much faster than snapping turtles, whose average speed is around 0.4 to 4 miles per hour, and that only in short bursts.
They usually move at a rate of under 1.2 miles per hour (2 km per hour) on average, while humans can run at speeds of approximately 6.5 miles to 8 miles per hour.
What is the fastest a turtle can run?
The fastest turtles are softshell turtles, which may reach speeds of 3 to 4 miles per hour. While this is still slow compared to humans, it is impressive.
Softshell turtles include species of the genus Trionychidae and include turtles found in North America, Asia, and Africa.
How fast can a snapping turtle swim?
In water, the snapping turtle is quite fast, swimming at speeds of 10 to 12 miles per hour (16-19 km per hour) over long distances.
They have a maximum speed of of approximately 22 miles per hour (35 km per hour). By comparison, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has a swimming speed of 6 miles an hour!
How fast can a snapping turtle run? As it turns out, about 0.4 to 4 miles per hour, and that only in short bursts. In all fairness, however, while a snapping turtle couldn’t beat you in a land race, you would definitely lose in the water.
Swimming 10 to 12 miles per hour over long distances, or 22 miles per hour in short bursts when they’re in a hurry, they could definitely swim circles around the fastest human swimmers on the planet. Don’t feel bad about that, however… they’re snapping turtles, after all, and water is their domain!
Want to find out about the biggest snapping turtle in the world? We’ve got you covered!