When most people think about turtles, their first thoughts are usually of the heavy, lumbering, shell-laden reptiles that slowly drag themselves around inch by inch.
We grow up hearing stories such as The Tortoise and the Hare that depict turtles as slow.
There are even common sayings and phrases referencing how slow these animals are.
What many people forget about, though, is that turtles can jump! Although it’s not something that they do very often, almost all species of turtles have evolved the ability to jump or quickly propel themselves forward when the occasion calls for it.
In fact, it’s actually one of their strongest natural defense mechanisms outside of their hard shells.
In today’s article, we’re going to be taking a look at turtles’ jumping patterns. We’ll start by examining how they jump and why they’ve evolved the ability.
Then, we’ll get into some more practical questions involving your pet turtle and why they may be jumping out of the tank or exhibiting escapist behaviors.
Let’s dive in!
How Do Turtles Jump?
In the water, they’re swift and in control. Their four flippers and powerful tails give them the ability to quickly change direction and propel themselves out of harm’s way to escape predators such as Alligators who may try to make a quick snack out of them.
When they get out of the water, things are different, though.
Out of all of the reptiles on our planet, turtles are, by far, one of the least mobile when it comes to moving on land.
Their slow, lumbering movements make them an easy target for mammalian predators and even large birds of prey.
They do have one key advantage,
however- their ability to jump!
Although they aren’t Olympic-level jumpers, they do have the ability to rapidly propel themselves in a certain direction when the occasion calls for it.
If their legs are strong enough and their shell is light enough, they may even achieve full lift-off.
Turtles prepare to jump by leaning all of their weight on their back legs and angling their bodies slightly upwards towards their head.
Much like a competition diver, this position loads all of their potential energy towards their more powerful legs in the back.
Once they’re prepared to jump, they bend their back legs slightly, dig their claws (or flippers) into the ground and then push as hard as they can while rotating their front legs to elevate the front portion of their body.
While it sounds like a process, turtles are able to do all of this at the drop of a hat at incredibly fast speeds.
In fact, when turtles jump, it’s probably the only time you’ll ever see them move that fast!
Example of turtle jumping!
How Far Can Turtles Jump?
Most turtles cannot jump very far. In general, the smaller the turtle, the farther they can jump.
This is because gravity doesn’t quite have the same pull on them.
It’s important to note that, unlike mammals, turtles cannot jump in multiple directions.
Due to their heavy shells, far leg spacing, and limited joint flexibility, they can’t perform quick side-to-side jumps, backward jumps, or even vertical jumps.
They’re only able to jump forwards. In most cases, their bodies will not levitate fully off of the ground, and their tails will likely drag across the ground as they leap.
However, certain breeds of turtles have more powerful legs and may be able to jump up to 3 or 4 inches into the air!
Reason For Turtles Jumping
Unlike frogs (who hop everywhere), turtles don’t just jump around for no reason.
They prefer to swim whenever possible or walk when swimming is not an option.
However, if you do see a turtle jumping, it’s almost always due to two reasons- self-defense and to achieve better water penetration. Let’s look at both.
A turtle’s primary line of defense against predators is its shell.
When attacked, they’re able to hide their limbs and heads within their hard protective shell.
In most cases, the only water-dwelling predator able to penetrate this shell is the alligator, and it requires so much effort that they rarely attempt it.
When they’re caught on land, however, they’re vulnerable to more attacks.
If you pay attention to turtles in the wild, then you’ll realize that they almost never stray too far from the water.
In fact, they tend to stay within jumping distance of a large body of water so they can quickly escape if the situation calls for it.
If they feel a vibration from approaching footsteps or see the shadow of a large bird, their immediate reaction is to hop into the safety of the water as soon as possible!
- Water Penetration
If you’ve ever jumped off of a cliff before, then you’ll remember how important it is to create distance between yourself and the cliff.
The same applies to turtles.
Often, turtles are jumping off of raised surfaces such as rocks and ledges.
If the turtle were to just crawl straight off of the ledge, then there’s a high chance that they would just tumble over and end up landing in the shallow water or worse- a hard rock that could easily crack their shell!
By propelling themselves upward and forward off of the ledge, they create distance between themselves and any rocks, debris, or shallow water that may be lying close to the ledge.
They also achieve a more aerodynamic profile which allows them to penetrate the water head-first and dive deeper with less effort.
Why Don’t Turtles Jump More Often?
Turtles are, by nature, slow.
Like many reptiles, they are able to go months without food.
This means that they have evolved a tendency to conserve energy.
For a large, clunky turtle to jump, it requires a significant amount of energy.
For this reason, they usually only jump when they feel threatened or have the urge to escape their enclosure for some reason.
That being said, you may realize that turtles in captivity jump more often. This is because they have access to a steady food source to replenish their energy levels.
Can Turtles Jump Out Of The Tank?
As we mentioned above, even the highest-jumping turtle can rarely jump higher than a few inches.
For this reason, it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to completely jump out of their enclosure.
However, turtles are resourceful little creatures.
Just because they can’t jump straight up out of the tank doesn’t mean that they can’t get some help.
Smart turtles will climb to high points in the tank and use that as a base to jump, giving them extra levitation.
They may even knock over objects in their tank that they can use as a ladder to make their escape!
Reasons For The Turtle To Jump Out Of The Tank
It’s not very common for a turtle to jump out of its tank.
However, if your turtle has managed to make an escape, it’s likely due to one or multiple of the following reasons.
- Lack of Space
Most of the time, turtles are content in small spaces as long as they have enough room to swim, exercise, and eat.
However, if your turtle starts to outgrow the tank and no longer has enough room to exercise and play, it may attempt to escape.
A general rule of thumb is to provide your turtle with 10 gallons of water for every inch of shell length.
Some turtles are just trouble-makers. You know the type… they knock things over, toss their food in the water, and try to escape just because they’re bored.
If your poor turtle is undergoing stress, then they may attempt to escape.
This usually happens if they’ve fallen ill, they’re not being fed enough, or if they can’t properly regulate their body temperature.
As reptiles, they need both water to remain cool and a heat source (usually a heating pad) to warm themselves when necessary.
- Dirty Water
One thing that turtles will not put up with is dirty water. If their water becomes stagnant, unfiltered, or starts to develop bacteria it will become a considerable health hazard for them.
This will activate their survival instinct and they’ll do everything to find a way to escape to better water.
Although turtles can go long periods of time without food, they prefer not to.
Make sure that they’re well-fed and have access to a nutritious diet that covers all of their basic needs.
Otherwise, they may jump the tank and decide to find their own food.
Which Type Of Turtle Jumps The Best And How Far?
Although almost all species of turtles possess the ability to propel themselves forward at fast speeds resembling a “jump,” there are few that can actually get their entire bodies into the air.
Of these, the common snapping turtle is the most recognized.
Even larger snapping turtles can easily get a couple of inches off of the ground.
Smaller, lighter snapping turtles may be able to jump as far as 4-inches!
This is mostly due to the fact that these turtles spend a good bit of time on land, trekking through the mud.
This has led to them developing stronger legs than other species of turtles that spend more time underwater.
Turtles typically only jump when they’re threatened or they need to dive into the water.
If your pet turtle is trying to jump out of its tank, then this is a sign that you need to provide them with a better environment.
Examine their tank, make sure that their water is right, they have access to a warming pad and good food.
If all else fails, buying them a new, larger tank will usually stop this behavior!