Surprising Swimmers

By Anne Cissel
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Wait–shouldn’t this pig be rolling in mud, not paddling in water?

Actually, pigs love to take a dip on a hot day. And they aren’t alone. Lots of animals (that you usually see on dry land) swim to get food, find mates, escape danger, or just cool off. To meet some of these creatures, dive on in!

Swimming with swine? That might not be the first thing you picture when you imagine a tropical vacation. But dozens of pigs live on Big Major Cay, an island in the Bahamas. People think that farmers brought them there years ago, but no one is really sure. The hogs love to piggy-paddle up to visiting boats to say hello—and beg for treats.

With its thick, armor-like skin, you’d think an armadillo would sink like a stone in water. Nope! This creature has a neat trick: It swallows big gulps of air and stores it in its belly so it can float. But sometimes it DOES sink–on purpose. Armadillos are known to “walk” along the bottoms of streams and rivers, not coming up for air for 4 to 6 minutes! But they swim only if they have to, either to escape a predator or move to a new territory.

These polar bear paws are the size of dinner plates and partially webbed. So they make powerful paddles for swimming. Also, body fat helps polar bears float–and keeps them warm in the freezing water. All this makes them the best bear swimmers in the world. Scientists have tracked polar bears swimming hundreds of miles in open water without stopping in search of their favorite meal: seals.

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Ever try to give a house cat a bath? If so, it was probably not a fun experience for you OR your pet. Most cats hate getting wet. But tigers love it! They will often bathe in ponds, streams, and rivers to cool off on a hot summer day. These mighty cats can swim long distances, too, crossing rivers up to five miles wide.

The American dipper is the only songbird that can swim. It dives into swiftly flowing streams to catch meals such as insects, small fish, and fish eggs. The bird also swims on the surface and dips its head over and over into the water to find snacks. It even walks on the bottoms of streams by moving its wings continuously.

Even though an elephant can weigh more than two pickup trucks, this massive mammal can float! Elephants just stretch the tips of their trunks above the water to breathe–like using a built-in snorkel (circle). Also, they have special lungs that help them dive deeper. Elephants swim to cool off and as part of their skin care routine: The water softens the dead skin so it comes off more easily.

We’re used to seeing monkeys swinging from trees. But crab-eating macaques (muh-KAKS) dive into the water to grab a meal or to avoid danger. These monkeys—especially the young ones—also like to splash in the water to play.

Most mammals in the wild can swim naturally. But great apes (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees) and people don’t. However, apes in zoos have been taught to swim, and of course people can sign up for lessons at an early age. So head to the pool and practice!

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Sloths may be slow in their tree homes, but they are three times faster in water. A sloth’s large stomach creates a lot of gas, which helps it float. There’s a lot of water in the rainforests where sloths live, and their swimming skills let them cross rivers to find mates or stake out new territories. But most of the time, you’ll find them high and dry up in the trees.

The salmon in this picture are giving this brown bear plenty of space. No wonder! Brown bears wade and swim in the water to find their next fishy meal. In the fall, they can eat as much as 90 pounds of food each day as they prepare for hibernation.

What are you doing in the water, Ranger Rick? It turns out raccoons can swim, too—and have been known to stay in the water for hours. Go, Rick, go!

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