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What is Turtle Racing?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee

Turtle racing is a type of amusement often intended to entertain children at community social events. It has also appeared as a form of entertainment in some taverns. It involves placing a group of turtles on a small racetrack and allowing them to proceed at their own pace until one turtle crosses the finish line. Prizes may be given out to the owner or honorary owner of the winning turtle. Some people believe that turtle racing, when unsupervised and unregulated, can pose a threat to the health of turtles and turtle populations.

This event has long been considered a central part of many small-town festivals, fairs, and community social events across the United States. Children are traditionally encouraged to participate in turtle racing. Participants in the race are usually allowed to bring their own turtles. Some venues offer turtles for rent to potential participants.

A turtle.
A turtle.

Some are concerned about the potential hazards turtle racing can pose to populations of wild turtles. Most people who participate in turtle races collect wild turtles from roadsides and wooden areas, thereby removing them from their natural habitats. These turtles are often removed so far from their homes that they can't find their way back again. Turtles removed from their familiar territory often attempt to relocate it, and many could die in the attempt.

A further concern is that most turtles collected for racing turtles may be females, since females are often migratory when moving towards nesting grounds. The removal of nesting female turtles from a breeding population can be particularly damaging to that population.

Others are concerned about the conditions under which some turtles are kept prior to racing. Many of the venues where turtle races are featured offer turtles for rent to potential racers. These turtles may be kept in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, where they are likely to catch or spread disease. If these turtles are returned to the wild, they could spread disease to the rest of the turtle population.

Some venues where turtle racing occurs do not allow participants to enter their own turtles into races, usually out of concern for the well-being of all turtles involved. Venues where turtle racing is handled with an eye to the turtles' well-being typically keep their own small supply of turtles. These turtles are usually bred on farms, rather than collected from the wild. They generally enjoy the care of a skilled keeper and are provided with suitable conditions. In these races, honorary owners may be chosen for each turtle in the race, usually at random.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is turtle racing and how is it conducted?

Turtle racing is a unique event where turtles compete to reach a finish line from a central starting point. The races are often held in a circular or semi-circular arena, with the turtles starting in the center and racing to the perimeter. It's a slow-paced, family-friendly activity that emphasizes fun over speed, and the turtles are typically common pet species like red-eared sliders.

Is turtle racing harmful to the animals?

When conducted responsibly, turtle racing can be harmless. However, it's crucial to ensure the turtles are not stressed or mishandled. Organizers should provide a comfortable environment, proper handling, and adequate rest for the turtles. According to animal welfare guidelines, any form of entertainment should not compromise the animals' well-being.

Where and when did turtle racing originate?

Turtle racing's origins are somewhat obscure, but it's believed to have started in the United States. The tradition has been particularly noted in the Midwest, where small towns have hosted turtle races as community events for decades. These races often coincide with local festivals and fairs during the summer months.

What types of turtles are typically used in turtle racing?

Common pet turtle species are often used in turtle racing. Red-eared sliders are a popular choice due to their availability and size. It's important that the turtles used are not wild-caught, as this can be detrimental to local ecosystems and the species' conservation status. Captive-bred turtles are the most ethical option for such events.

How do organizers ensure a fair start in turtle racing?

To ensure a fair start in turtle racing, organizers typically place all competing turtles in the center of a circular or semi-circular track. A common method is to cover the starting area with a bowl or similar object, lifting it to start the race. This helps prevent any turtle from getting a head start.

Can people bet on turtle races, and is it legal?

Betting on turtle races is not mainstream and is often discouraged to maintain the event's family-friendly atmosphere. The legality of betting on turtle races varies by jurisdiction, with many places having strict gambling laws that would apply. Always check local regulations before engaging in any betting activities at such events.

Discussion Comments


@MrsPramm - The problem is that I suspect it's a rare turtle race that involves taking care of the turtles. More often they are just taken from the wild for a one-off race and then dumped once the race is over.

Since it's such a rare event and only lasts for a brief period of time, it is really difficult to regulate it.


@croydon - Well, if it's done properly I don't see the problem. If the turtles are kept in good, humane conditions and aren't made to race too much then they aren't suffering.

And there are plenty of pet turtles that aren't endangered. If anything, they are probably getting a better life being kept as racing turtles.

I think it's kind of a cute custom. Better than cock fighting or dog baiting. Turtle racing games seem relatively harmless.


I'm not a big fan of this kind of race. I really feel like they should just use mechanical "turtles" or some other technology substitute, rather than subject actual turtles to this kind of treatment.

Turtles might seem like they are very stoic, but they can actually be pretty sensitive and, in a lot of cases, they are endangered.

Fishing endangered animals out of local waterways just so that you can have a few minutes worth of excitement doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

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      A turtle.