Can Apes Swim? How do apes swim?

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Can apes swim? Here are your answers

Apes are the Primates that fall under the family Hominidae (hominids) of the Animal Kingdom. They include famous examples like Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Orangutans, Gibbons, Bonobos, and even Humans under the Great Apes.

In this post, we will bring more light on other apes and not on humans as a whole. So, keep reading.

Yes, apes can swim but not very perfectly. In fact, inexperienced apes need to practice swimming a lot for being able to swim up to a considerable extent, but it’s true that there are very chances for them to getting drowned in deep water.

Apes’ inability to swim can also be proven by the reason why moats (broad ditch filled with water) are often used in zoos surrounding their habitat region from all sides to prevent the apes from escaping.

In fact, apes don’t have the ability to swim in a coordinated fashion like humans, and so they don’t have good swimming hydrodynamics due to their physical stature, improper body weight ratio, and other less swimming adaptational features.

We humans can learn swimming very well after a lot of practice and learning sessions. But, a well-practiced and well-learned ape can’t be a good swimmer as compared to that of a human swimmer.

An inexperienced ape who wasn’t introduced to a waterbody before may drown very easily until and unless it is in a shallow water body.


While an experienced ape that has learned various swimming lessons of its own, while crossing the water bodies or getting into it around its habitat may somehow be able to partially swim and thermoregulate itself while struggling to keep its head above water.

Humans can indeed swim in deep water if the water current is considerably low, but in the other case, apes have very high chances of getting drowned while swimming in deep water.

So yes, partial swimming and diving behavior in apes have been reported both in the zoo and wilderness. And, it’s because of their adaptation preferring to stay on dry land over the course of evolution that have made them bad swimmers indeed.

Also, note that monkeys are not apes. In fact, monkeys and apes are both primates, with each one falling under a different category under the same Order Primates of the Animal Kingdom classification taxonomy.

So, if you want to know more about swimming in monkeys and other related information, then you can go read this post here: Can monkeys swim? Why all monkeys can’t swim?

Why apes cannot swim perfectly?

Apes cannot swim perfectly because they don’t have the right swimming pattern in order to contribute to their better swimming hydrodynamics for allowing them to swim perfectly.

Their inability to not being able to swim perfectly can be well-seen when the apes get introduced into deep water they often get drowned.

Apes fear water a lot as they are well-adapted on land and highly prefer to stay on land only until and unless there’s an emergency for them to go into the deep water.

It’s also because their ancestors had lost the instinct to swim and so they as well. However, just like humans, they do also have the ability to learn to swim in order to swim in a partially perfect way.

Apes like Gorillas have been known to evaluate the water bodies by using sticks to see how deep the water is in order to avoid entering the deep side of the water and so to avoid drowning.

Apes lack the same level of buoyancy that other swimming animals have, and so that’s also why they can’t swim. Buoyancy is the tendency of a body to float or to rise when submerged in a water body.

Apes also do not have a balanced body-to-weight ratio in order to make them fit for swimming.

Their physical stature due to their dense and heavy muscles increases their weight a lot which disallows them to be able to swim perfectly and so getting drowned easily most of the time.

They also lack the motor movement to keep themselves above the water. Motor movement allows a swimmer to avoid water resistance by precisely moving certain parts of the body at once in a swimming hydrodynamic fashion, and these apes partially lack good motor movement for them to become good swimmers.

When they are first introduced to any water body, just like for example in a swimming pool, it has been noticed that they enter the water with fear and repeatedly dive in the same place near the banks where the water is shallow.

And as weeks passes by, their continual approach to entering into the water and diving makes them partially good to swim on the surface of the water while still struggling to keep their head above the water surface.

However, they will always avoid moving towards the deep side of the water body.

How do apes swim?

Now that it is very much clear that apes are able to swim partially fine, and they can’t be called great swimmers because of the lack of right swimming patterns in them.

Humans (Homo sapiens) are those great apes that are an exception as they can swim very well if they have learned to swim as compared to the other species of apes.

Apes are seen to swim by taking occasional dips only, by following a kind of breaststroke swimming style in which they swim by lying on their chest while not rotating their torso portion of the body. This allows them to keep their head out of the water for a longer time while swimming at slow measurable speeds.

It is here to be noted that, apes do dare to only go to a waist-level in any water body and that they remain by the side of the banks for required necessary support.

This is due to their fear of water and also as a replacement of the former behavior patterns of water avoidance shown by their ancestors.

Apes like Chimpanzees were observed to lack an innate ability to swim, but after repeated practice, they may learn to swim but not that much perfectly as humans swim.

EXPLAINED: Apes do take occassional dip

Yes, apes fear water and only enter water bodies rarely to take occasional dips. This is so because they aren’t much adapted to crossing waterbodies by going through the water.

It’s rare for them to go to the deep portion of any water body, or else they may soon drown for not being able to maintain the buoyancy.

Apes like chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas occasionally enter shallow water bodies to sometimes play around, thermoregulate themselves, drink water, take a self-swimming class, and take occasional dips of course, and when they do so they wade on their two legs.

They can also be seen very cautiously wading in a swamp nearby their habitats may be for crossing the water body or maybe while following other tasks.

EXPLAINED: Apes tend to swim using a form of breaststroke

Yes, apes prefer the breaststroke style of swimming to keep them floating. They do so by lying on their chest and paddle while not rotating their torso portion of the body.

This breaststroke style of swimming keeps them afloat, while they move their limbs out sideways from their bodies. This also helps them to keep their head above the water surface for a much longer time.

This breaststroke swimming style is kind of a most primitive kind of swimming pattern seen in some apes in which the arms and legs move somewhat like a frog swimming in the water.

But still, by following this kind of swimming pattern they aren’t able to swim perfectly and may get drowned if they go deep into the water.

Although, this breaststroke kind of swimming is not that perfect in apes, but then so, they are able to follow the pattern quite well.

So, the next time if you find an ape swimming which is very very rare to see, then you will often see it swimming in the shallow side of the water by lying on its chest, and its arms breaking the surface of the water slightly, while the legs always underwater may be in a slow paddling motion, and its head being lying above the water surface.

And yes, if the ape had learned to swim, then it will be swimming at slow measurable speeds.

How evolution defines swimming in Apes?

Apes have derived their swimming style as an adaptation due course of their evolution.

Their ancestors didn’t have much contact with water as they were arboreal in nature and so spend most of the time up in the trees.

Their ancestors even didn’t need to come down to the ground or enter any water body to cross it.

So, the true tree-dwelling ancestors of apes had less opportunity to move on the ground. In fact, they were so arboreal that they jumped from one tree to the other and so on in order to move from one place to another.

Their ancestors had also developed various alternative strategies to cross small rivers like by wading through the water while being near to the banks for support, entering in shallow water, or using natural bridges like holding the tree trunks and roots, and all.

And so their ancestors didn’t seem to have any natural instinct to swim. And so, maybe that’s why the present-day apes still fear water.

Maybe that they fear the unseen predators that might be there secretly lurking from inside the water.

But, as researchers have studied so far about apes, it shows that they will overcome the fear and can go for a dip occasionally in the water if they feel safe enough.

And, as the present-day apes got better adapted for both arboreal and terrestrial locomotion, so as a result, they have also learned to overcome their fear of water, and so slowly they have also adapted various ways to swim and wade through the water.

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