What are the slowest animals in the world?
Everyone knows that the cheetah is the fastest land animal and that there are a number of extremely fast birds that can swoop on their prey at incredible speeds. But aside from the tortoise, snail, and sloth, would you be able to name any super-slow animals?
Whilst speed is a matter of life or death to many predators and prey, there are plenty of other species that enjoy an altogether different pace of life. Some creatures are simply not in a hurry – and have evolved to have no need to rush.
We’ve pulled together a selection of nature’s slowest animals below, and showcased their picture, top speed, and some interesting information about each of them. In curating this list we’ve focused on animals that do actually move. Coral, for example, are animals but they don’t move. Similarly, there are many other animals – like oysters and mussels – that live a stationary life, but we’ve not included on this list.
So, with this context in mind, here are the slowest animals known to mankind, ranked by speed:
Sea anemone – slowest animal on earth?
0.0001 km per hour
The sea anemone family (Actiniaria) is related to coral and jellyfish, and with over 1,000 species sea anemones come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Whilst they rarely detach themselves from coral or rocks – preferring to hunt by waiting for fish to pass by close enough to catch – they are able to move around on their one foot, called a pedal disc.
When predation or changes to the conditions around them leads them to take a stroll, time-lapse photography has captured them moving at a pace of around one centimeter per hour. Depending on the criteria used, this could well be the slowest animal in the world!
0.001 km per hour
According to a study of 450 garden snails (Cornu aspersum) using LED lights, UV paints, and time-lapse photography, the top speed of garden snails is around one meter per hour – or just 0.0o1 kilometers per hour.
As with slugs, all snails move using muscular contractions of their one, boneless foot, releasing a stream of mucus which turns into slime to lubricate their path forwards. Unlike slugs, snails have thick coiled shells on their backs they can retract into, meaning they have even less need for speed to avoid predators.
0.009 km per hour
There are around 2,000 different species of starfish (Asteroidea) living in all of the world’s oceans, from cold seafloors to tropical waters. Although understudied, it’s known that most starfish are very slow indeed, using their wiggly tubes at the bottom of their many arms to crawl at speeds of around 15 centimeters per minute, or 0.009 km per hour.
Due to their incredibly slow movement, starfish sometimes use ocean currents to move longer distances more quickly.
0.015 km per hour
The dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae) is a small species of seahorse found in the Bahamas and parts of the USA, and one that mates for life. It is recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the slowest moving fish, with a painful top speed of about 150 centimeters per hour.
Because of their unique body shape, seahorses are unable to make much movement in the water to propel themselves, so rely instead on drifting. It’s this extremely slow movement that allows them to sneak up on prey (usually small crustacea) undetected when it then lunges to snap the prey into its mouth. A successful hunter at 0.15km per hour!
Three toed sloth
0.27 km per hour
Native to Central America, the three-toed sloth (Bradypodidae bradypus) is the slowest mammal in the world, moving at the hair raising speed of up to 2.4 meters per minute on the ground. When they’re up in their favored rainforest canopy they’re able to pick up their speed to around a 4.6 meters per minute.
In fact, their top speed is so slow that it’s algae growing on their coats that gives them a greenish tinge. They also have the accolade that their name is a synonym of slow movement!.
Sloths have an incredibly low metabolic rate and need only a few leaves and twigs for nutrition, along with a very slow digestive system leading to their sluggish pace. In combination, the sloth’s anatomical structure differs from other mammals in having very long arms with very short shoulder -blades, which allows them a large reach without the effort of too much movement, and adds to their languid style of movement.
0.3 km per hour
Giant tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra) don’t usually move more than a couple of kilometers each day, and it’s easy to understand why when their top speed is just 0.3 kilometers per hour and their shells are so heavy. They tend to walk around between their feeding areas in the early morning or late afternoon, spending the rest of their time grazing and resting.
In the Galapagos Islands, giant tortoises walk along well-worn animal paths through the undergrowth known as “tortoise highways”. These creatures also have the distinction of being some of the longest living creatures on the planet. Perhaps it’s something to do with their pace of life!
0.48 km per hour
Slugs are slow gastropod molluscs with no shell, and (perhaps because of the lack of shell) they’re usually able to beat their cousins – the garden snail – in a race. The banana slug (Ariolimax costaricensis) is an exceptionally slow slug species, however, topping out at just over 8 centimeters per minute, or 0.48 kilometers per hour.
All slugs move by propelling themselves along using muscular contractions of their one foot, secreting mucus which turns into slime to lubricate their path forwards. Banana slugs also have a mucus gland at the end of their tail which they can use to create a chord to rappel down from heights.
1.9 km per hour
The nocturnal south-east Asian slow loris (Nycticebus) is an unusual animal, as they are the world’s only venomous primate. These creatures have toxins in their mouth and elbows, covering their fur with toxins to both deter predators and go after prey.
It’s this protection from predators that has allows the slow loris to evolve as such a slow animal, reaching just 1.9 kilometers per hour at maximum speed, and covering up to 8 kilometers over the course of a night. Like the other predators on this list, this slow-moving animal is able to strike fast when within reach of its favored insects.
2.4 km per hour
Gila monsters (Heloderma suspectum) are a type of venomous lizard native to southwestern USA (and the world’s slowest lizard). They’re one of the larger animals on this list of slow movers, growing up to 0.4 meters long, and have the ability to kill and consume prey up to one-third of their body size.
They live much of their time underground, resting, and store high quantities of fat in their bodies to allow them to hunt – and expose themselves to predators – less frequently. When Gila monsters do go hunting they manage to reach speeds of 2.4 kilometers per hour, so despite their size and venom they’re not much threat to humans.
10 km per hour
Like the sloth, the koala bear (Phascolarctos cinereus) has a high fiber/low nutrient diet and an extremely slow metabolic rate. Koalas store almost no fat in their bodies, and conserve energy wherever possibly – sleeping and moving very slowly being two key strategies. They have a great sense of smell, but extremely poor eyesight, and spend most of their time living on the trees, eating eucalyptus leaves, and not moving much.
26-46 km per hour
OK, so when talking relatively the ability to travel 46 kilometers in an hour is positively rapid compared to these other slow movers. But in the world of birds, the American woodcock is the slowest by some way, so deserves an honorable mention. Its body shape is small and chunky, spending most of its time on the ground, camouflaged in the brush and forest by their brown and grey plumage.
And that’s our list of the slowest animals in the world. Any that surprise you? Or any that we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments section below.