Everyone knows that animals with webbed feet are good swimmers, but that’s not the only purpose of this tissue forming on the feet. In today’s article, we’ll be learning about a few species of animals with webbed feet and ingenious ways they use them.
The best examples are:
- Fishing Cats
- Water Turtles
- Water Birds
Table of Contents
1. Fishing Cats
Scientific name: Prionailurus viverrinus
These wild cats are only found in South and Southeast Asia, and they’re special as they’re one of the only cats with webbed feet (bobcats and leopards also have webbed feet).
What makes this cat so special is the amount of time it spends in water. We all know of the myth that cats hate water, but this cat can swim and dive almost like a fish.
They also primarily feed on fish – hence the name. They’re not afraid of diving into the water and fishing, which is why their webbed feet are so important. No other cat spends as nearly as much time in the water as fishing cats.
Scientific name (family): Talpidae
Moles are one of the few land animals with webbed feet that have probably never swam in their life (not to mention that they’d likely drown). Instead of using their webbed feet for diving and swimming – they use it for moving under the ground.
These mammals spend their entire lives under the ground, rarely seeing the light of day. In order to effectively move under the ground, they have to ‘swim’, which is where their webbed feet come into play.
They’ve so far proven to be great tools in underground movement as well as digging.
Scientific name: Ornithorhynchus anatinus
The front feet of the platypus, which are webbed just like their hind feet, play a crucial role in swimming. They’re one of the only mammals to propel themselves forward by alternating a rowing motion of the front feet.
They hide their hind feet by pressing them up against their own body and use them to steer left and right, alongside the tail. Webbed feet also come in handy when females have to dig burrows to host their young.
Scientific name (subfamily): Lutrinae
Anatomically the most powerful feature of all otter species (there are almost twenty of them), is that they all have incredibly strong, webbed feet. They use them to swim at incredible speeds and hunt underwater.
Fish make up the largest part of their diet and it can easily occur that an otter doesn’t eat anything else during their entire life. They’re active hunters and they focus their entire lives around bodies of water.
Scientific name (order): Sphenisciformes
All species of penguin have webbed feet, but there are major differences when it comes to the degree of webbing. Humboldt penguins, for example, have prominently webbed feet.
All penguins feed on fish and they spend the majority of their lives underwater or at least near it, while they have to dive while hunting. That’s why their webbed feet are a great advantage when it comes to survival.
6. Water Turtles
Scientific name (family): Emydidae
The major difference between water turtles and other turtle families is that they don’t have flat, slow feet like most turtle species. Instead, they have webbed feet, with different degrees of webbing depending on the species.
Their limbs have completely adapted to swimming, which is an evolutionary trait that allows them to spend their entire lives in the water. They’re often feeding on fish and other animals we find in lakes and streams, so mobility is crucial for them.
Scientific name (genus): Castor
Beavers are incredibly dexterous animals that can grab objects in a very similar way to how humans grab them. They can also dig and swim very well. The latter pair of abilities is granted by the webbing they have.
These animals with webbed feet have intricate webbing on their hind feet, between the toes. When they’re swimming, they use only their hind feet, while they tuck their front feet under the chest as they’re not webbed.
Hind feet of the beaver act like a paddle when they’re swimming and they allow them to reach the speed of 5 miles an hour, which is usually quick enough to avoid predators.
Their legs also need to be powerful enough for them to drag all the driftwood to build dams.
Scientific name (order): Anura
The largest number of frogs have webbed feet, while the degree of webbing depends on the species. What’s amazing is that these amphibians with webbed feet don’t only use them for swimming, but for flying too!
There are genera of frogs called ‘flying frogs’ which have webbing so well-developed that they can use it to glide. We see this as an adaptation to the life in the trees, as gliding allows them to quickly run from predators.
For example, if a snake climbs up the tree, all the frog has to do is dive and glide before it lands safely. This is a completely different way of using webbed feet in comparison to traditional uses.
Scientific name: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
These giant rodents that have some webbing on their feet, which helps them swim. They usually spend their entire lives in or around water, primarily living in North and Eastern South America.
Without webbing on their feet, swimming would be virtually impossible for these animals, as they’re the largest rodents on the planet. Since they primarily feed on fish, webbing is crucial to their survival.
Scientific name (order): Crocodilia
Crocodilians range in size and distribution, which is how we got the Nile crocodile, American alligator, Gharials, Caymans, etc. However, one trait they all share are webbed feet.
All crocodilians have webbing on their powerful hind feet, while their front feet usually have very little or no webbing at all. They live and hunt in the water, and being able to propel themselves at speed is crucial to their survival.
11. Water Birds
Water birds include over a dozen genera of birds with specific adaptations that allow them to focus their entire lives around water. Those adaptations include webbed feet and legs that can help them dive and spend time in the water.
Some of the most famous water birds are ducks, geese and swans, but also cranes, pelicans and herons. Most of these animals will eat fish given the opportunity, with some particularly carnivorous birds slamming into the water and hunting fish under the surface.
Animals with webbed feet have a massive advantage when it comes to swimming in comparison with animals that don’t have webbed feet. However, some animals – like flying frogs or fishing cats – use their feet for more than swimming.
There are also birds that have developed webbed feet and swimming capabilities, despite most birds being completely inept at swimming beforehand.
All of these animals have one thing in common – their lives depend on water, which they use as a highway to lead them to survival.