Re: Can camels swim?

Sloths (to my knowledge) can swim.

But I was wondering, what about birds? They’re animals, and I doubt a sparrow (example) could do a breast stroke really well. Prove me right/wrong!

Edit by CKDextHavn: Link to the Mailbag Answer being discussed: Is the camel the only animal that cannot swim?

[Edited by CKDextHavn on 10-11-2000 at 07:33 AM]

I guess we may have to differentiate here between “swimming” and “not drowning.” Most birds can stay afloat for a little while from what I’ve seen, but I don’t think sparrows would win any awards in synchronized swimming.

They can move around and stay afloat, thats swimming.

As for the gorilla thing gorilla babys will drown while human babys will stay afloat.(no dont ask me how they tested this)

Ummmm…the question was, “Is it true that the only animal that cannot swim is a camel?”

I can think of a lot of 'em. Fish come to mind…

I think you read the question wrong, qwerty. The question is asking if camels are the only animals that cannot swim. Fish would be on a list of animals that can swim.

Oops. I guess that damned Evelyn Wood thing didn’t pay off.

The comment about sloths and swimming rang a bell. I recalled something from my mis-spent youth, hanging about libraries.

So, I dug into the Archives here (Yeah, we all have our own), and pulled out an old copy of The Land And Wildlife of South America, By Marston Bates and The Editors of Life, from the Life Nature Library, copyright 1964.

On Page 190 of this august tome, I note a full page color photograph of a swimming sloth. A good part of this sloth’s body is above the waterline - it appears that the sloth may well be more bouyant than a human. It may be my imagination, but I could swear the thing is smiling, too. The caption reads as follows:

“The Awkward Sloth, called the Nimble Peter by derisive Spaniards, never leaves the trees unless it absolutely has to. But when forced out by floods, it floats and flaps its way along. In fact it is almost impossible to drown a sloth. Totally immersed for 30 minutes, they will still revive - possibly because their slow metabolism rate requires less oxygen in their blood.”

IIRC, sloth regularly leave the trees, in a slow and laborious fashion, to defecate and bury their scat. (My goodness, I wonder if there’s a correct term for sloth poop. Fewmets? naaaah.) If they did not do so, it has been said, their slow rate of movement would allow predators to more easily spot them by the piles of dung under the sloth trees.

I currently do not have a reference for that, however.

So there you have it - The Sloth swims, albeit not as gracefully as other animals might.


According to a National Geographic Society Book I have (“Wild Animals of North America”)

…or was she just joking about something and I missed it?

I’d be proud to drop a 'dillo in a lake for you, Jill, if I ever see one alive. But then, I saw my first live raccoon and skunk in the past month, so I suppose 'dillos are next up.

Gilly, I would blame this screw up on Ed Zotti, but then I should have known I couldn’t depend on him to catch it. Ed doesn’t even know how to spell “armadillos.” Cecil, however, did write an interesting column on armadillos and leprosy once:

The armadillo found in the southeastern US is most commonly called the “Nine banded armadillo” (scientific name Dasypus novemcinctus); not the Seven banded armadillo (Dasypus septemcinctus), which is found only in South America. (Though, in my feeble defense, I have heard that Nine-banded armadillos can have from six to 11 moveable bands, depending on what part of their range they’re found in, but that’s no real excuse to mess up the name). And yes, the US species is also called the “common long nosed armadillo.” The nine banded armadillo actually originated in South America and didn’t arrive in Texas until about 1880, though prehistoric armadillos roamed here. Its range continues to expand. In South America you can also find the six-banded armadillo or peludo (Euphractus sexcinctus); the three-banded armadillo, or apar (Tolypeutes t. cinctus); the giant armadillo (Priodontes giganteus), and the pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphoras truncatus) (not to be confused with the fairy penguin of Australia) among other South American species.

And yes, the Nine-banded armadillo can swim, so you Okies can forego the experimentin’ and go back to drinking beer at Pauline’s Bait and Tackle Shop. - Jill

I refrained from responding the first time Jill posted this slur, but the second time is too much. According to John Steinbeck, Okies were the people that left Oklahoma and moved to New Mexico during the dust bowl, raising the average IQ in both states.

And I don’t want to hear about Dewey Bartlett.

Having lived in Oklahoma - where the many of the natives refer to themselves as such - I meant it affectionately. Chill, PUN.

Sloths can swim. I remember watching the Animal Channel one day, and they were showing a Sloth swimming. Not only can they swim, but they are very good at it as well! The clip I watched was that of a mother who had fallen from a tree. Her baby clung to her back as she slowly swam across the water to reach for a low hanging branch.
As with all nature shows, the Sloth of course was being chased by a predator, some sort of a snake. She seemed to swim rather fast, the most suspenseful part being how slowly she climbed the low hanging branch, as the snake quickly gained on her.

I really have to wonder just how often these predators are chasing the prey the camara men are recording though. Ever notice sometimes you don’t even see both Predator & Prey in the same scene? Hmmm…

Well, if it’s animals that can’t swim…a whole lot of insects come to mind…butterflies, ants etc. I don’t think a bat could swim…probably not a chicken…a snail…some rodents possibly (is a bat a mammal? how about a squirrel?) …some types of snakes…maybe kangaroos. In terms of mammals…giraffes? I would think that if they were in water deeper than their head (not a very likely scenario) they would have trouble staying afloat and balanced…elephants are hard to visualize as well.

When I was about 7, I tried to rescue an injured bat from some pre-teen/teenage boys who were trying to kill it by throwing rocks at it. I scooped it into a coffee can (without touching it - bat bites can be pretty nasty you know, not to mention possible fleas/mites!), fashioned a lid for the can with a paper plate and some string (all found at the lakeside). But one of the boys took the can from me and threw it in the lake. One of the kids finally grew some compassion and helped me fish the can out of the lake - when we looked in, the bat was pissed as hell, but was swimming quite handily, staying afloat in the can (it couldn’t grip the sides). (Little brown bat, I think - maybe western pipistrelle? If that is spelled right…)

Anyway, the rest of the boys still got the bat away from me and killed it. It had a torn wing (owl, possibly), and might not have made it anyway, though since my dad was a microbiologist who was researching BATS (we’d had them at home a lot, hibernating in the refrigerator), I figured if I could get it home, it had a chance… My mom had helped rescue other bats before, too (mostly involving giving them a launching pad above the ground). I cried for hours. Still infuriates me.

If you read descriptions of bat flight, you may note that it is described as more of a ‘swimming’ motion than a ‘flapping’ motion. The musculature and bone structure works the same way in water - lift on angle forward and up, scoop high over the surface, press down in front, pull down and back, and lift again. Bat butterfly stroke, as it were. Not that you’d see many bats swimming for fun, but at least one species of bat can swim.

An engineer here in Texas told me of an incident on a ranch he visited. The host took an armadillo and gently put it in a pond. It swam.

Then the host took the same armadillo, swung it around his head a few times, and before my friend could say anything, the armadillo was in the middle of the pond, flailing for it’s life, drowning shortly thereafter.

Yes, US armadillos can swim.


As several others have remarked, sloths, especially the three-toed variety, are competent, if extremely slow, swimmers. They are regularly found well offshore in large lakes and at sea. What exactly possesses a sloth to take to water, on the other hand, is one of several abiding mysteries of sloth psychology. (In most cases it’s surely not because they’re being “chased” by a snake!)

Regarding primates, gorillas in captivity are notorious for being prone to drowning in even a few feet of water, though I’m skeptical of the center-of-gravity argument.

Obviously many kinds of birds can swim. Aside from ducks, penguins and others too numerous to mention, even ostriches are reputed to be capable of making headway in the water. On the other hand, most small land birds such as sparrows would rapidly be doomed by a dip in the drink. Although their outer feathers shed rain and bird-bath water well enough, an immersion of any length of time would soon waterlog them (aquatic birds have more durable waterproofing), causing the loss of so much body heat they would die of hypothermia. However, one small bird that can “swim” quite well underwater (using its wings for propulsion) is the Dipper.

Most land birds that are capable of flight would devote all their energy to trying to fly up out of the water rather than even trying to swim, so the question is somewhat moot. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if a chicken might not be capable of swimming if it set its “mind” (so to speak) to it, but I expect it would simply thrash around until it became waterlogged. Some chicken-shaped birds such as gallinules lack webbed feet but are quite capable of swimming. Any observations of swimming chickens?

Very interesting post about the swimming bat. I would have guessed they couldn’t.

Most, if not all, snakes are excellent swimmers.

The thought of a giraffe trying to make headway in the water indeed rather boggles the mind. Anyone care to try throwing one in?

[[However, one small bird that can “swim” quite well underwater (using its wings for propulsion) is the Dipper.]]

The water ouzel!

Quite right, Water Ouzel is the Brit name for Dipper. There are five species in all, including the American Dipper of western North America.

We call em Ouzels here in New Mexico. It’s a tiny bird that lands on a rock then dives in and swims aways down (or up) stream before popping up again. It’s really something to see.