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Can Monkeys Swim?

Written by Janet F. Murray
Published: August 17, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/structuresxx
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Monkeys are similar to humans and share many characteristics with us. For example, some people love swimming, and some hate it; this is the same with different species of monkeys. Some are strong swimmers and love being in the water. In contrast, others are not physically able to swim and have water phobias. So, let’s find out if monkeys can swim, which monkeys can swim and cannot, and why that is the case.

Can Monkeys Swim?

Most monkeys love the water, but not all can physically swim.

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Most monkeys love the water, but not all can physically swim. Larger monkey species often cannot swim and have phobias of water. Still, some monkeys can swim because their fingers and toes are made in a way that lets them glide through the water. In addition, specific species share certain physiological features with people that allow both to swim. These features include infant swimming, diving, voluntary breath holding, and buoyancy.

Human infants have a swimming reflex that results in rhythmical, coordinated movements, inhibiting breathing until roughly six months. Some monkeys also have this reflex. In addition, people have the diving reflex, which is also present in all monkeys. 

The diving reflex consists of bradycardia (slower heart rate), apnea (breath holding), and peripheral vasoconstriction (regulation of body temperature). This reflex conserves oxygen when swimming. 

Some monkeys share the voluntary breath-holding response that humans have. Still, it is difficult to determine which monkeys have this ability, as it is challenging to study this aspect ethically. 

Finally, to swim, you need a certain amount of buoyancy due to the high body fat to muscle ratio. Certain monkeys have the correct body fat to muscle ratio, which ensures their buoyancy in water. 

Proboscis Monkey: The Strongest Swimming Monkey

animals with big noses: proboscis monkey
Proboscis monkeys are famous for their large, bulbous noses and swimming abilities.

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Proboscis monkeys are famous for their large, bulbous noses and swimming abilities. These monkeys, native to Borneo, are the most renowned swimming monkey species as their bodies are well-equipped for this activity. In addition, their bodies are streamlined, and they have webbing between their fingers and toes. This streamlining allows them to leap from tree branches and dive into the water with ease. As one of the monkeys that can swim, this ability supports their survival during floods and winter.

Proboscis monkeys live in mangrove forests and have had to adapt to their environment to survive. For example, many monkeys living near water sources prone to flooding must be strong swimmers to survive. Consequently, these proboscis monkeys can travel up to six miles daily to search for food. They mainly swim to find food in the form of young, tender leaves. Proboscis monkeys frequently climb trees in their territory to find this food source. However, if they want new food sources untouched by other monkeys, a better option is swimming through rivers and streams to get the job done faster. 

The mangrove forests in Borneo have shrunk due to deforestation. This depletion endangers their survival, which is why there are currently fewer than 7,000 proboscis monkeys left in the wild. 

Other Types of Swimming Primates

macaque by a hot spring
Japanese macaques can swim, and they enjoy being in the water.

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Many large monkeys swim like people and can dive in deep river water. Other small monkeys will swim willingly, primarily across open waters. Small monkeys that can swim include macaques, red howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, and snow monkeys.

Macaque monkeys can dive into deep waters, hunting for crabs and small crustaceans. Like proboscis monkeys, howler monkeys have physical features that support their ability to swim. These features are flattened physiques, superior hydrodynamics, and an appropriate fat mass balance.

Scientists have proof that spider and squirrel monkeys, which live in the Amazon rainforest, swim across rivers and streams. Snow monkeys, also known as Japanese macaques, dive into the water and can swim for over half a mile. Although these monkeys are good swimmers, they prefer soaking themselves in the hot springs during winter. 

 Other monkeys that can swim include:

Types of Monkeys That Cannot Swim

Animal Facts: Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees are not among the monkeys that can swim, but they enjoy spending time in the water.

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Not all primates can swim, which is due to their body’s design and sometimes their habitat. Ones that cannot swim often have a low body fat ratio and have heavy or stout physiques. Others that cannot swim live in habitats that do not have large water bodies. In other words, they have never had the opportunity to learn to swim. Most species with soft fur cannot swim, as their hair absorbs the water. Absorbing water in their fur increases their body weight, so they start drowning rather than become buoyant.

Apes can paddle through the water, but they are not monkeys that can swim. Examples of these apes are gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, and bonobos. Apes are also often scared of water and can even drown if they fall into deep waters. These primates have a low body fat ratio, so they sink in water. Their upper bodies are also heavier than their lower bodies, so they are not streamlined. Although chimpanzees are not designed for swimming, they enjoy playing in the water during the summer to cool off.

Some Monkeys Can Hold Their Breath for up to 10 Minutes

Monkeys that can dive into the water can hold their breath for three to six minutes. Still, researchers have found that some monkeys can hold their breath underwater for up to 10 minutes. For example, proboscis monkeys dive 65 feet and hold their breath underwater for up to three minutes. Most primates choose to swim for short distances, but some species swim up to six miles during floods to survive and find new food sources.

A wild monkey enter a hot spring, Snow monkey in Nagano, Japan.
A wild monkey enter a hot spring, Snow monkey in Nagano, Japan.
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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