Created: 6/21/2017 Updated: 4/8/2020
In this series, we'll be addressing some common questions from visitors and readers. Do you have a science question that has you stumped? Ask our museum scientists via our form here and we'll answer it on our blog!
What is the fastest turtle?
Turtles: they're not renowned for their speed. Sure, the turtle** wins in The Tortoise and the Hare, but just to serve as a humiliating example of arrogance. No one celebrates for the tortoise in that story, you know? It's ok, though. Turtles don't mind! There's no need to be fast when you carry your own armor for defense and your food is stationary.
But surely there is at least one turtle that's massively mobile. A turtle with wheels. A turbo turtle. Which turtle is it? Can any turtle outrun a human? What is the fastest a turtle can go?
We begin with the official recordkeepers. The Guinness Book of World Records maintains the record for fastest tortoise: the tortoise ran at an average speed of 0.63 miles per hour. Tortoises are notoriously slow, however, even for turtles. We can do better.
Some turtles can "sprint" much faster than any tortoise. Compare the Guinness World Record tortoise video against any number of Youtube "fastest turtle" videos to see soft-shelled turtles rushing to safety (gee, what incentive would a soft-shelled turtle have to be able to move quickly?). From one of these "fastest turtle" videos, I estimated the speed of a sprinting turtle based on the distance it ran (about 15 feet), divided by the time it took to move that distance (about 3 seconds). From that quick calculation, soft-shelled turtles can move at a speed of 3 miles per hour. For comparison, that's a comfortable walking pace for an adult human.
That's not the fastest turtle, though: turtles swim much faster than they can walk, and the blog post's question didn't specify how the fastest turtle was getting around. The leatherback sea turtle is reported as being able to swim up to 22 miles per hour, though I could not find an original source for that claim.
We're not done yet: turtles have moved at least 1,000 times faster than even the fastest sea turtle.
Animals have been launched into space many times to test the effects of space on living things. Turtles have had their share of space flights: turtles have been sent into low-earth orbit by Soviet (Soyuz 20) and Iranian (Kavoshgar-3) space missions. All turtles survived both missions. To maintain low-earth orbit, the turtles traveled at 17,000 miles per hour.
But the fastest turtles ever, and the ones who have been farthest from earth, are two Russian tortoises that were launched aboard the Zond 5 spacecraft in 1968. This spacecraft traveled to the moon (it didn't land, of course: humans are the only animal that has stepped onto the moon) and returned safely to earth. Details about the speed of this flight are difficult to find.
This Proton-K rocket launched the Zond spacecraft. Not pictured: two intrepid tortoises.
However, NASA used a similar flight plan during the Apollo missions, and those flights reached speeds of 23,000 miles per hour. It is fair to conclude that the Zond 5 spacecraft and those two Russian tortoises reached a similar speed! Leatherback turtles travel over 10,000 miles during their migrations. If a leatherback turtle could swim its maximum speed without stopping, it would complete that trip in 19 days. A rocket-propelled turtle covers that distance in 25 minutes.
And that, without a doubt, is the fastest a turtle has ever traveled.
The complete turtle velocity leaderboard:
Turtle (method of locomotion)
Maximum Speed (mph)
Bernie, The fastest tortoise according to Guinness World Records (ambling)
Soft-shelled turtle (moving/walking quickly)
Leatherback turtle (swimming)
Turtle (spacecraft in low earth orbit)
Russian Tortoise (spacecraft in circumlunar orbit)
**Remember: all tortoises are turtles. Not all turtles are tortoises.
Nature Museum Volunteer
 Swatman, Rachel. “Record Holder Profile Video: Bertie the fastest tortoise”. (2015, September 9). Retrieved June 8, 2017, from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2015/9/record-holder-profile-video-bertie-the-fastest-tortoise-395633
 Fastest Tortoise – Guinness World Records. Video published by Guinness World Records. (2015, September 9). Retrieved June 8, 2017, from https://youtu.be/i6nYWsXnl6M
 Shweky, Rachel. “Speed of a Turtle or Tortoise”. (1999). Retrieved June 9, 2017, from http://hypertextbook.com/facts/1999/RachelShweky.shtml
 Animals in space. (2017, May 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 11, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Animals_in_space&oldid=782401061
 Orbital speed. (2017, June 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 11, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Orbital_speed&oldid=784641407
 Space Launch Report: Proton Data Sheet. (2017). Retrieved June 10, 2017 from http://www.spacelaunchreport.com/proton.html
 Translunar Injection. NASA, archived by web.archive.org. (2016, December 4). Retrieved June 9, 2017 from https://web.archive.org/web/20041118103812/http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4029/Apollo_18-24_Translunar_Injection.htm
 Sea Turtle Migration. http://www.seeturtles.org/sea-turtle-migration/
Do you have a science question that has you stumped? Ask our museum scientists via our form here and we'll answer it on our blog!View Comments
Created: 6/13/2017 Updated: 6/16/2017
Statement by Deborah Lahey, President and CEO of the Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum regarding the United States announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
There is an undeniable correlation between the health of our planet and the health of all living things. That fact is what makes the United States’ announcement withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement a concern to many people. The action could erode the collective, global efforts needed to provide solutions to climate change as well as other collaborations. Our world needs every leading country working together for the good of all living things.
The Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is deeply committed to fact-based, environmental research and education, and we advocate for uniting global and local efforts to protect our planet and nature. Through our collection and ongoing research, we have documented 160 years of history of the environmental changes in our region and continue to contribute to science-based learning.
On a more personal and individual level, the Nature Museum is building a deeper connection between nature and the public. Every day, we provide a welcoming gateway for people to better understand our urban environment and what it means to them. Through engaging exhibit experiences and programs, including the self-produced exhibit Our House: Rethinking Home in a Changing Climate, people are encouraged to think about how our choices -- from building homes to driving cars – can be in harmony with nature, or not.
Our region is fortunate that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in response to the U.S. decision that the City of Chicago will continue forward “to achieve goals set in the Paris deal.” Many regional business and civic leaders also are publicly stating their support for the country to stay in the agreement. This leadership will help Chicago to continue making progress reducing carbon emissions in line with the international climate accord.
We believe it is critical for everyone to stay informed and united in efforts to address climate change. To increase our contributions to these efforts, the Nature Museum plans to convene more forums with organizations, policy officials, municipalities, thought leaders, and individuals to dialogue about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing innovative clean energy sources that are good for the environment and create new jobs.
Be assured that our teams of scientists and educators are working to build greater public understanding and engagement in climate and environmental issues. We know that unity makes us strong, and collectively we can protect the environment on which all living things, including each of us, depend -- now and in the future.
Created: 6/5/2017 Updated: 6/5/2017
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In March, two teachers from St. Malachy School got to represent our E2SP program at the National Science Teachers Association Conference. The following blog is a guest post written by them as they reflect on the experience. Want to learn more about our education programs for students and teachers? Click here.
We are Science Teacher Leaders at St. Malachy School and part of the Early Elementary Science Partnership (E2SP) initiative sponsored by The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, The Field Museum, Northwestern, and Big Shoulders. We were thrilled to be invited to present with the E2SP team at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference in Los Angeles at the end of March.
Our first day of the conference, we attended the Elementary Extravaganza. The event is held in a large hall and there are teachers from all over the country and world showcasing science activities. There were so many exciting things to see: for our personal use and to share with the other teachers in the building. Then we went to the vendor hall where we saw even more great ideas and items to enhance our science program. The workshops we attended further energized us for future plans for our school.
Our presentation was on using protocols to enhance science professional learning communities (aka-making science meetings helpful). We have had great success getting teachers to participate in our monthly meetings due to our use of the protocols we have learned from E2SP. After a brief introduction to the program and our school, we actually led a protocol with workshop attendees. The feedback from the participants was so positive. We left with almost as many ideas from the lively discussions.
We are so grateful to Big Shoulders for sponsoring our travel and E2SP for including us in the presentation. We came back with so many great ideas for our school. Patti was so excited, she wrote a proposal to do her own presentation next year in Atlanta: who wants to join her?
Patti Taylor and Kaylyn WardripView Comments
St. Malachy School