Slowest Animal in the World by Land, Air, and Sea

The fastest animals in the world get a lot of hype for being world record holders, but what about the creatures on the opposite end of the speed spectrum? Who do you think holds the record for the slowest animal in the world?

Well, it depends on if you’re measuring on land, in the air, or in the ocean. It also depends on:

  • If you’re counting animals that don’t move at all, like mussels
  • If you’re measuring the animals’ max speed or average speed
  • If you’re accounting for body size

We could add even more to that list too. Even scientific facts can depend on context! That’s why we can’t name just one slowest animal in the world, but we can share the top contenders!

Slowest Animal in the World on Land

The title for the slowest animal on land is often given to the three-toed sloth, but the saying is “slow as a snail.” So, which do you think is slower, a sloth or a snail?

According to the Sloth Conservation Foundation, a sloth’s max speed is 1.5 miles per hour. Their average speed is less than 0.5 miles per hour. Here are some interesting facts about sloths and their slow lifestyle:

  • Sloths move slowly to conserve energy because they have really slow metabolisms. It can take them up to 30 days to digest a leaf!
  • They only move about 125 feet (38 meters) per day. They move so slowly that algae will grow on them.
  • They’re better at climbing than crawling, and even better at swimming. Sloths move about 8ft per minute on the ground, 15ft per minute in the trees, and 44ft per minute in the water.

Now the sloth is definitely slow, but the average speed of a garden snail is 0.03 miles per hour, which is much slower. The snail’s relative, the banana slug, is even slower at 0.003 miles per hour. These are some of the reasons why slugs (and snails) are so slow:

  • Snails and slugs move using one special foot. It’s not like a human foot though, it’s called a “ventral foot.” Snails and slugs move by expanding and contracting it in a wave-like motion, which is not as efficient as walking or running.
  • Snails and slugs need to excrete mucus to move. The mucus reduces their friction with the ground and allows them to move across a variety of surfaces. It takes time, energy, and water to make the mucus, which is another thing that slows snails down. It’s pretty cool though!

All in all, we give the title of slowest animal in the world on land to the banana slug.

Slowest Flying Animal in the World

This is kind of an interesting one, because there are many animals that can actually hover at an airspeed of zero. Hummingbirds can hover, but we would never describe them as slow. The slowest recorded flying animal that’s actually trying to move forward is the mosquito. They clock in at 1 – 1.5 miles per hour. That’s the same speed as a sloth!

Even though the mosquito’s speed sounds slow to us, it’s actually pretty fast for their body size. If we’re considering relative body size, we might give the title of slowest flying animal to the American woodcock. The American woodcock’s maximum flight speed is only about 5 mph. Given that it’s 44x the size of a mosquito and 74,000x the weight of one, it’s a lot slower comparatively.

Here are some interesting facts about how the American woodcock flies:

  • It has a chunky body and short, rounded wings that make it poorly suited for fast flight. Its shape is more adapted for camouflage on the forest floor.
  • When taking off, woodcocks have to flap their wings rapidly just to get airborne. Once they’re up, they can only fly short distances before having to land and rest.
  • They primarily fly at dawn and dusk, using their large eyes to navigate through the forest. Their low speeds allow them to easily navigate tight environments.
  • Despite being slow flyers, woodcocks actually migrate long distances each year between their breeding and wintering grounds. They just do it over a longer period through many short flights.

So, while the mosquito is technically the slowest, the spirit award for the slowest flying animal goes to the American woodcock.

Slowest Swimming Animal in the World

The slowest swimming animal is the dwarf seahorse. They swim very slowly, moving only about 5 feet every hour. Dwarf seahorses are tiny and swim by fluttering a small fin on their back while using other little fins to stay steady. They like to hide in seagrass and wait quietly for tiny sea creatures to come by so they can eat them. This slow way of moving is perfect for how they catch their food.

There are other animals in the ocean that move slower than the dwarf sea horse, but not by swimming. Some sea anemones will detach themselves from their spot and roll around at about 4 centimeters per hour. There are other sessile species like sponges and corals that barely move at all. Sessile means immobile.

Other Notably Slow Animals

Were there some slow animals you had in mind that haven’t been mentioned yet? Here are 5 more honorable mentions when talking about the slowest animal in the world:

  1. Gila Monster: It’s one of the slowest moving reptiles. It conserves energy by moving very slowly and doesn’t travel far. Minimizing activity helps prevent it from overheating and conserve moisture in its desert environment.
  2. Koala: Koalas can actually move pretty fast on the ground, but they enjoy being up in the trees where they move at a leisurely pace. Their diet is mainly eucalyptus leaves, which are hard to digest and low in nutrients. Moving slowly helps make up for the low energy availability of their food.
  3. Slow Loris: Slow is literally in their name. They move at a painstakingly slow pace to avoid detection by predators. This small primate has evolved to move quietly and remain motionless for long periods. It is a master of stealth in its dense forest environment.
  4. Manatee: They’re often called sea cows because they’re large, leisurely, and like to graze in coastal waters and rivers. They move slowly and use their paddle-like tails to navigate through the water. This slow pace is sufficient for their lifestyle. They’re focused on feeding and resting in shallow, warm waters.
  5. Tortoise (Specifically the Galápagos Tortoise): This tortoise is one of the most famous slow-moving animals. Many turtles are actually pretty fast, so the saying should really be “slow as a tortoise.” The Galápagos tortoise adapted to life on rugged volcanic islands. Their slow speed is well-suited for conserving energy in a habitat where food can be sparse and spread out. Their leisurely pace has become symbolic of longevity and persistence.

While speed is often celebrated in the animal kingdom, the slowest animals in the world deserve a spotlight too. Animals like the sloth, snail, and tiny dwarf seahorse have special reasons for moving so slowly. Moving slowly helps these animals save energy and stay hidden from predators. It may look like they are just being lazy, but their slow speed is actually a smart way to survive in their environment. The next time you see a sluggish animal taking its time, remember that being slow isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s better to go slow and steady instead of rushing through life. Slow animals can teach us to be patient and appreciate the little things we might miss when we’re always in a hurry. Who knew the world’s slowest animals could give us such an important life lesson?

Keep Exploring

Want to learn more about animals, their needs, and their differences? Check out the lesson below.

Animal Nature Walk (Intro to Zoology): This lesson is part of a Learn Libre membership. In it, you’ll go on a walk through a New York City park to observe different kinds of animals that live there. You’ll learn about the common traits that all animals share. You’ll also learn about the wide variety of different characteristics and clever ways that animals adapt to their environment! You can preview it here.


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