The Top 12 Slowest Animals In North America

Written by Lisha Pace
Updated: May 8, 2023
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Key Points:

  • The slowest bird in the world only flies slow during courtship displays.
  • Butterflies’ wings flap 300 beats per minute – while a flies’ beat 62,760 per minute.
  • Manatees are capable of swimming 15 miles per hour to escape predators but usually swim at 3-5 miles per hour while grazing.
The Top 12 Slowest Animals In North America

North America is the third largest continent in the world and home to some of the most diverse animal species. Here, in this massive geography of many types of habitats and climates, you can find animals with many unique attributes. Some of these creatures are extremely fast while others are incredibly slow.

Here we explore the 12 slowest animals in North America, starting from the faster species of the 12 and moving down the list to the very slowest animals found on this continent. Some are among the slowest animals in the world! But none move faster than 5 miles per hour at top speed.

#12 American Woodcock, The Slowest Bird in the World!

Slowest animals in North America
The slow courtship flight of the American Woodcock makes them the slowest birds in the world.

©Andrea J Smith/

The American woodcock is the 12th slowest animal in North America and the slowest bird in the world! Also called the timberdoodle, bogsucker, hokumpoke, Labrador twister, or Scolopax minor, this bird lives in the eastern forests of North America. Their habitats stretch from as far north as Newfoundland to as far south as the Gulf of Mexico.

This round little bird has a long beak that it uses to sift through dirt to find its favorite food, earthworms. Woodcocks searching for food walk with a funny, bobbing dancing motion. By rocking back and forth while stepping heavily with their front foot – this little dance causes worms to move around in the soil so they are detected easily.

Although these birds fly at speeds of up to 28 miles per hour during migration, they only reach speeds of up to 5 miles per hour during courtship displays. This slow courtship flight makes them the slowest birds in the world and one of the slowest animals in North America.

Explore more interesting facts from the world of birds by reading this article.

#11 Swallowtail Butterfly

Slowest animals in North America
A Black Swallowtail Butterfly feeding on Zinnia flowers in the garden.

©Melody Mellinger/

Members of the family Papilionidae, butterflies are among the most diverse families of insects with more than 560 species around the world. Many of these live in North America, including the swallowtail, also one of the slowest animals in North America.

These brightly-colored butterflies feature hind wings with pointed tips that resemble the swallow bird. Those wings only flap at 300 beats per minute in comparison to a midge fly’s 62,760 beats per minute. This extraordinary difference illustrates just how slowly their wings move and why they are one of the slowest animals in North America.

Learn more about the diverse family Papilionidae and the many types of butterflies in A to Z Animals.

#10 Manatee

Slowest animals in North America
A mother and calf Manatee swimming in the Crystal River, western Florida.


Although it is not the slowest animal in the sea, the manatee ranks high on the list of slowest animals in North America. Also called a sea cow and related to the land-based elephant, the manatee is very large. These animals weigh up to 1300 pounds and can grow to lengths of up to 13 feet long.

The North American manatee species inhabits coastal Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and as far north as the coast of Massachusetts. They can swim as fast as 15 miles per hour to flee predators or in short, energetic bursts. But manatees typically only swim at 3 to 5 miles per hour, especially when grazing on plants growing from the seafloor.

Learn more about sea cows in the A-Z Animals manatee article.

#9 Rosy Boa

Slowest Animals In North America
A harmless rosy boa on a granite rock in the desert.

©Jason Mintzer/

The United States has only two native boa constrictor snakes. The rosy boa is one of those two, also being one of the slowest animals in North America. This boa lives in the deserts of the American Southwest and Mexico.

Measuring between 17 and 44 inches long, these reptiles stay out of the extreme daytime sun and heat. They live in burrows and under rocks where they feed on smaller reptiles, frogs, mice, and birds. Although it can attack its prey quickly, the rosy boa only crawls at about 1 mile per hour. This ranks it as not only one of the slowest animals in North America, but also one of the slowest snakes in the world.

You can learn more about the 3,000 species of snakes around the world here.

#8 Gila Monsters

Slowest Animals In North America
Gilas are sluggish creatures that feed primarily on eggs raided from bird nests and newborn mammals, such as rabbits and squirrels.

©Vaclav Sebek/

Gila monsters, Heloderma suspectum, are reptiles living in the Sonoran desert of Mexico and deserts of the American Southwest. But many people do not realize that this dinosaur-like creature can live at elevations as high as 5,000 feet. They spend most of their time underground and beneath rocky cliffs and outcroppings, shaded from the intense rays of the sun.

At 2 feet long and 4 pounds, the Gila monster does not need to be quick to capture its prey of newborn mammals and bird eggs. This is especially true in that the reptile only needs three or four large meals to meet its annual calorie quota. Surprisingly with so few calories to burn, it can still reach 1 mile per hour in speed. This means it is able to tie a rosy boa in a speed race and as one of the slowest animals in North America.

Read more about the Gila monster, the largest lizard in the United States.

#7 Starfish

Slowest Animals In North America
As far as speed is concerned starfish are very slow-moving ocean animals that are known for their snail-like movement speed.


Starfish, members of the genus Asteroidea living in the sea, include more than 1500 species worldwide. There are many in the oceans of North America, including the Atlantic and Pacific.

Starfish usually live on the seafloor in deep water where they feed on oysters, clams, and mussels. Because their prey is stationary, the starfish has little reason to swim quickly. Most of these species also mate by releasing spores into the water, not requiring swiftness to fulfill those needs. In fact, they only move at about 0.06 miles per hour, making them very slow, indeed.

Read more about starfish here.

#6 Desert Tortoises

Slowest Animals In North America
Desert Tortoise in the Mojave Desert. One of the reasons for tortoises’ slow speeds is because of their diet; they are herbivores, so do not need to hunt or chase their food.

©Darren J. Bradley/

The deserts of North America are home to the 6th slowest animals on the continent, the desert tortoises. These reptiles live on land in Northwestern Mexico, Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Although they only measure between 9 and 15 inches long, these animals weigh as heavy as 15 pounds. That weight includes the hard, domed shell in which they live and travel.

West of the Colorado River we find the species Gopherus agassizii. To the east of this great river, Gopherus morafkai is found. As herbivores eating mostly cacti, wildflowers, and grasses, there is little motivation for a desert tortoise to move quickly. Their shell helps to protect them from predators, too. They can fully withdraw their body, limbs and all, into the shell when attacked. That protection works in their favor since they can only go as fast as 0.03 miles per hour.

Learn more about the desert tortoise that lives up to 80 years without ever moving quickly.

#5 Garden Snails

Slowest Animals In North America
Garden snail crawling in a spring forest. Garden snails release mucus to help them move.


Cornu aspersum, the garden snail, is a pest to some people and a tasty delight to others. Among all of North America’s animals, it is the 5th slowest. Although it is not native to this continent, this gastropod now lives in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Like the desert tortoise, the garden snail has a hard shell and herbivore diet, giving it little need to move quickly to meet its dietary needs. But the snail’s shell is much smaller and lighter, only measuring about 1.1 to 1.7 inches. Still, the garden snail is one of the favorite foods for many species including insects, birds, frogs, and lizards. To evade these predators, the unfortunate snail can only travel up to 0.029 miles per hour, making it the second slowest animal on land in North America.

Check out this article to learn more about the fascinating world of snails.

#4 Banana Slugs

Slowest Animals In North America
A banana slug, Ariolimax columbianus, in a Pacific Northwest rainforest, Washington. Banana slugs are decomposers and play an important role in their ecosystem. 

©Steffen Foerster/

Gastropods like the garden snail, but left more vulnerable without a shell, banana slugs are the 4th slowest animals in North America. They grow as long as 9.8 inches in length and inhabit forests from Alaska to California. Because they eat dead organic matter found on the ground, it is easy to understand why these creatures do not need speed.

Banana slugs secrete mucus that covers their bodies and trails behind them as they travel at speeds of only 0.0061 miles per hour. This mucus has a foul taste to predators like birds and other mammals, providing some defense as the slowest prey on land in North America.

Slugs are a fascinating group of organisms you can learn more about on

#3 Dwarf Seahorse

Slowest Animals In North America
A dwarf seahorse clings to an underwater leaf. 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.


Hippocampus zosterae, the dwarf seahorse, lives in the sea. It is the slowest fish in the world. That is understandable, considering they only measure up to 1 inch in length and cannot compete with the bigger swimmers!

Found mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and coastal Florida, these tiny seahorses swim using dorsal fins that push them forward in the sea. Their front pectoral fins steer them through the water. Being so small, their diet also consists of tiny creatures like little shrimp, copepods, and the tiniest of fish. But the dwarf seahorse itself is prey to rays, crabs, tuna, and sea birds. Unfortunately, moving at speeds of only up to 0.00093 miles per hour does not help them escape. For this reason, the tiny seahorses typically hide among floating vegetation where they live.

Check out the fascinating life of the world’s seahorses in this article.

#2 Sea Anemones

Slowest Animals In North America
Sea anemones are flower-like marine, predatory animals.

©Natalia Fedori/

In the order Actiniaria and living in the sea of the Pacific Northwest, Mexico and Florida are other fascinating creatures, one of the slowest animals in North America. It is the sea anemone, part of over 1100 recorded species in their order and related to coral, jellyfish, and hydra.

Sea anemones live much like coral, affixing themselves to hard surfaces with their polyps. They also have tentacles and mouths used to capture prey passing by in the sea. Because they do not need to pursue their prey and also live symbiotically with green algae from which they get key nutrients, there is no need for a sea anemone to move at high speed. But they can move from one spot to another by gliding along the surface. This gliding only reaches speeds of 0.000000631 miles per hour, equal to about 0.04 inches per hour.

Read more about the sea anemone’s interesting life as one of the slowest animals in North America.

#1 Sessile Animals – Corals, Sea Sponges and Mussels

Slowest Animals In North America
Blue Mussels underwater and filtering water in St. Lawrence in Canada. Mussels are sessile animals and do not move.

©RLS Photo/

Also living in the sea and moving slower than any other animals in North America are the sessile animals. This group of corals, sea sponges, and mussels rank together as the slowest because they survive their entire lives without any movement. In fact, their lack of movement makes many people think that corals and sea sponges are just plants. But they, like mussels, are living creatures. They each move at 0.0 miles per hour, making them rank not only as the slowest animals in North America but also slowest among all of the animals of the world!

Corals, sea sponges, and mussels capture their food from the water around them. Corals also get nutrients from the algae living in their tissues.

Learn more about coral, sea sponges, and mussels in

Summary of the 12 Slowest Animals

1Sessile Animals-Corals,Sea Sponges, Mussels0.0 miles per hour
2Sea Anemone0.000000631 miles per hour
3Dwarf Seahorse0.00093 miles per hour
4Banana Slug0.0061 miles per hour
5Garden Snail0.029 miles per hour
6Desert Tortoise 0.03 miles per hour
7Starfish0.06 miles per hour
8Gila Monster1 miles per hour
9Rosy Boa1 miles per hour
10Manatee3-5 miles per hour
11Swallowtail Butterfly300 beats per minute
12American woodcock5 miles per hour

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Harry Collins Photography/

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About the Author

After a career of working to provide opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I am enjoying having time to write about two of my favorite things - nature and animals. Half of my life is spent outdoors, usually with my husband and sweet little fourteen year old dog. We love to take walks by the lake and take photos of the animals we meet including: otters, ospreys, Canadian geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl, and listening to my son's music.

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