Can Gorillas Swim? The Answer Might Surprise You

Gorilla - wildlife forest portrait
© Ondrej Prosicky/

Written by Kirstin Harrington

Published: May 19, 2023

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Gorillas — they’re just like us! Although we’re closely related to these incredible creatures, there are some major differences. For starters, no, gorillas cannot naturally swim! While humans can do some impressive things in the water, the same cannot be said for our primate friends.

Today we’re going to talk a bit about gorillas, and how they interact with bodies of water, along with a few fun facts about these creatures. There’s something for everyone, so keep on reading! 

Types of Gorillas

The eastern and western gorillas are the two species of gorillas that exist worldwide. They both do, however, have two subspecies. Mountain gorillas and eastern lowland gorillas make up the eastern gorilla species.

Silverback gorillas are mountain gorillas, making them part of the eastern gorilla species.

©Carine06 from UK / CC BY-SA 2.0 – Original / License

The Cross River and western lowland gorillas make up the western gorilla species. Both species are found on the African continent in tropical and subtropical climates. The magnitude of the sound and what sounds they make when communicating are the sole distinctions between these two species.

They also share the fact that they’re in danger of extinction as a result of the degradation of their natural surroundings. 

Gorillas and Swimming

Gorillas are incapable of swimming naturally, just like the other apes. This is why they stay away from rivers and huge bodies of water. However, both juvenile and mature creatures like playing with water in zoos and occasionally even in the wild. They occasionally traverse wetlands on two legs when submerged up to their waists in the pursuit of food.

Gorillas simply remain still and patiently await for the rain to stop if they are startled by a downpour. They will sit beneath a cave or other nearby shelter if one is available. Even though these animals are incredibly smart, they won’t hide under giant leaves or trees to get out of the rain.

How Do Gorillas Cool Off?

Eastern lowland gorillas have sparse hair that helps them maintain temperatures. Mountain gorillas have thicker, longer hair that may absorb heat because nighttime temperatures in the Virunga Mountains may dip below freezing. 

Their dark fur is also helpful since it conceals them and keeps these creatures camouflaged in the dense rainforest. Generally speaking, they have modest freshwater requirements. Gorillas can withstand a wide range of temperatures. They are subjected to somewhat high levels of climatic unpredictability and eat a variety of bountiful foods.

What Do Gorillas Eat?

If food is one of the only reasons a gorilla will dip their toes in a body of water, what grub are they going after? Gorillas consume mostly fruits, bamboo shoots, and roots as part of their vegetarian diet. Yet, Western lowland gorillas also enjoy eating ants and termites. 

Mountain Gorilla eating leaf

Mountain gorillas love eating vegetation.

©Ltshears – Public Domain

They will crack open termite mounds to consume the larvae. A minimum of 97 plant species are consumed in some form by Western lowland gorillas. Fruit makes up about 67% of their food, followed by leaves, seeds, and roots at 17%. 

Termites make up 3% of their diet, as well as caterpillars. Eastern lowland gorillas eat at least 104 different plant species’ components. 

Finding Food

A male adult gorilla can eat up to 40 pounds of vegetables every day. In the wild, gorillas hardly ever drink as they prefer to eat water-rich succulent vegetation and morning dew. It has been observed that gorillas receive water through the hair on the back of their palms and will suck it out! Pretty wild, huh? 

Gorillas don’t overuse a habitat in search of food. They cultivate the plants in a way that makes it possible for rapid replenishment to take place. For being foragers, gorillas can be quite picky with what they eat. 

They often consume just specific plant sections. For instance, they might solely consume a certain plant’s leaves, pith, stalk, or roots. To get the specific piece of foliage they want to eat, they handle it using their dexterous hands and nimble lips.

Gorillas can tear apart vegetation with their amazing power. For instance, an adult male can dismantle a complete banana tree to get the delicate pith inside.

Kings of Climbing

Although gorillas aren’t natural swimmers, they are unbelievably skilled climbers. The majority of a gorilla’s time is spent on the ground in the forest.  But they’re all accomplished climbers. Even large silverbacks may climb trees to scavenge for food or find a cozy spot to rest. 

silverback gorilla running

While they’re not natural swimmers, gorillas are excellent climbers.

©Michael Verbeek/

It is important to note that, unlike orangutans, gorillas don’t swing from tree branches. The main reason they don’t spend a ton of time in trees is due to their immense weight. They are among the largest and most powerful primates still living. 

A silverback gorilla can weigh up to 400 pounds on average. Mountain gorilla females, in comparison, are a little shorter than five feet tall and weigh 200 pounds.

Final Thoughts

While it would be interesting to see gorillas swimming in the water, it’s just not something they do often. As we stated above, unless they’re starving and trying to find food, these animals steer clear of lakes, rivers, and lagoons. 

We do hope you learned a fun fact about our primate relatives and found something interesting to tell a friend! Be sure to check out our other posts and videos about these precious animals! 

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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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