What Animals Can’t Swim – 10 Examples with Pictures

Even though most animals know how to keep themselves afloat by instinct, there are animals that can’t swim because of the way their bodies are structured.

Learn what animals can’t swim below!

  • Hippopotamus
  • Gorillas
  • Chimpanzees
  • Black and White Rhinos
  • Toads
  • Giraffes
  • Tortoises
  • Most Birds
  • Prairie Dogs
  • Chinchillas

*Note: Animals are ranked in no particular order.

Table of Contents

1. Hippopotamus

Scientific name: Hippopotamus amphibius

It’s probably shocking to learn that the hippopotamus, an animal known for spending its entire life in water, can’t swim. As odd as that might be – these giant mammals are actually not swimming when they’re in water.

On average, they spend 2/3 of each day in water. However, they’re not swimming – they’re bouncing. Hippos are incredibly heavy and their bones are incredibly dense, rendering them incapable of swimming.

They’re an animal everyone thinks can swim, while they actually can’t – the opposite of camels. This myth is perpetuated by the fact that most camels never see large bodies of water. However, the ones that do can swim just fine.

2. Gorillas

Scientific name (genus): Gorilla

Similar to hippos, gorillas can’t swim because of their sheer size. Most of their body is muscle, so floating is impossible and it would be difficult to keep themselves afloat either way.

Since they can’t learn how to swim, moving over bodies of water is impossible for gorillas. However, they compensate by being some of the most intelligent animals in the world.

Before crossing a body of water over, they’ll use a stick to check the height to make sure that they don’t drown.

3. Chimpanzees

Scientific name: Pan troglodytes

Chimpanzees are another ape species incapable of swimming because of their dense bones and muscular bodies. Humans, gorillas and chimpanzees all share one quality – we don’t know how to swim instinctively.

There are few animals that can’t swim by instinct, as most species can stay afloat even if they’ve never even seen water before. Just like gorillas, chimps need to measure water before they enter it to make sure that they don’t drown.

4. Black and White Rhinos

Scientific names: Diceros bicornis and Ceratotherium simum

There are four species of rhinoceros in existence, and both Asian species can swim. The two African species, on the other hand, are completely incapable of keeping themselves afloat.

The reason is the same as with all the previous entries – they’re simply too heavy and keeping their head above water would require immeasurable amounts of strength.

5. Toads

Scientific name (order): Anura

You’re right to be weirded out by this, as frogs are known as great swimmers, but that rule doesn’t apply to all frogs. Unlike most frogs, toads are heavy and they have short legs.

These legs are not only weaker than the legs of your everyday treefrog, they’re also incapable of producing movement to propel the animal forwards and backwards.

They’re also not capable of floating for a long period of time, which is why toads won’t go past the shallows – it’s very easy for them to drown.

6. Giraffes

Scientific name (genus): Giraffa

Many people ask can giraffes swim with good reason. Even though their bodies are more than capable of floating, their legs are too long, too thin and they require way too much energy to move around underwater.

It’s also important to note that despite all their strength, their legs are simply unable to move them underwater – their bodies are too heavy for their legs when it comes to swimming.

Not to worry, though, as they’re so tall that they can easily cross most bodies of water if need be without swimming. Also, since their necks are so long, they can easily keep their head above water.

Another problem would occur if a giraffe needed to swim. Even if it could somehow move forwards and backwards, despite its legs being too thin and weak, it would get tired very soon from holding its massive neck up all the time.

7. Tortoises

Scientific name (family): Testudinidae

Tortoises are different from turtles for being unable to swim, but it’s likely because of the reason that first comes to mind. Believe it or not, their heavy shells aren’t a problem when it comes to floating.

Their legs are the problem, as they’re bent and they have clawed toes – they can’t move once they’re in the water. There is, however, a lot of air in their bodies that allows them to float, and some tortoises have floated for over 450 miles overseas and survived the trip!

8. Most Birds

Scientific name (class): Aves

To get it out of the way immediately – there are groups called seabirds and waterbirds that can swim very well. Aside from them, however, most birds are terrible swimmers and they’ll drown immediately.

There are, of course, birds that can dive into water, catch their prey and fly back out. However, the number of species that can spend time in water the way ducks and swans do is minimal. For example, owls can’t swim at all.

9. Prairie Dogs

Scientific name (genus): Cynomys

Prairie dogs are small, round animals with very short legs that can’t create enough force to stay afloat, let alone maneuver in the water. Because of this, they’ll likely sink if they enter water.

Given that they live in tunnel systems, a flash flood is a killer for them, since there’s no way for them to swim out.

10. Chinchillas

Scientific name (genus): Chinchilla

A chinchilla can’t swim for several reasons. Firstly, they have incredibly sensitive fur and if they stay wet for too long, they’ll die from hypothermia. They’re so sensitive that simple rainfall puts them in danger.

Their fur is so dense that it absorbs water with ease and doesn’t really dry unless the temperatures are very high. This puts them at a great disadvantage as it becomes easy for them to develop the ringworm infection.

Lastly, it’s likely that a chinchilla in water would absorb so much water that it would become extremely heavy and simply drown.

To Summarize

Most animals that can’t swim are at such a disadvantage because of their bone density and sheer size. The best examples of that are gorillas, chimpanzees and black or white rhinoceros.

However, if you’re wondering what animals can’t swim because of more uncanny disabilities, remember that toads have short legs with limited movements that keep them from swimming.

There are also chinchillas that are unable to swim because their fur is a vulnerable point for numerous reasons. Know that there are also myths about a few animals that can’t swim, while they actually can, such as camels.

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