Ask a Turtle Scientist

What’s the land-speed record for turtles? What does a softshell turtle’s shell feel like? How can I help endangered turtles? You have questions – our scientists have answers.

Yesterday, Conservation International reported on the catastrophic decline of the world’s freshwater turtles. This decline is a sign of trouble in freshwater ecosystems – upon which people also depend.

To help raise awareness of World Water Week, an international conference that works to address the state of water-related issues around the world, we’ve put our freshwater turtle and tortoise scientist, Dr. Peter Paul van Dijk, at your disposal.

Submit your questions now and check back here next week to see the answers.

And don’t forget to learn all you can about the most endangered freshwater turtles on our website. Did you know there’s a species of turtle with only four living members? And a turtle that hasn’t changed much since the time of the dinosaurs, whose meat is prized for religious celebrations?

Turtles are among the most fascinating species of animals – as Dr. van Dijk well knows. What do you want to know?

EDIT: The period to submit questions is now closed. Check back later this week to see the answers to community-submitted questions!


    1. Peter Paul van Dijk says

      Turtle walking speeds have not received much study. The average walking speed of a land turtle/tortoise is somewhere under a mile an hour on a smooth level surface, but few tortoises walk for a long enough distance that it is meaningful to measure long-distance walking speed.

      Sprint speed over short distances is a bit higher, and sprint speed of some freshwater species on land, like softshell turtles and some others, may well exceed five miles per hour for a yard or two going downslope.

    1. Peter Paul van Dijk says

      The cruising speed of an 8″ swimming softshell turtle was measured as 1.5 miles per hour. A softshell in open water can easily outswim a human swimmer, even when the human is equipped with mask, snorkel and fins, and that’s without the animal making much of an effort. A spooked softshell that has decided it wants to get away fast probably develops a burst sprint speed that is at the order of several miles per hour, but no measurements are available.

    1. Peter Paul van Dijk says

      A box turtle has been clocked in an experimental situation at a speed of almost one-quarter mile per hour, but this would be a short-distance sprint speed that the animal would be unlikely to sustain for long. A more normal, sustainable walking speed is about one-sixth of a mile per hour. However, box turtles rarely walk consistently for long distances on end; animals going about their normal daily life walking around in forested habitat would rarely cover more than 100 yards in a day.

  1. Pingback: A turtle could literally get across the Carolinas faster than Florence is at 2 mph | Fort Lauderdale News

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