Have you ever seen a squirrel performing its acrobatic moves from tree to tree? It may come as a surprise that these agile creatures are also capable swimmers. In this post, we’ll explore why squirrels swim.
Squirrels will swim to look for food or to escape predators. Squirrels can swim up to two miles an hour using their hind legs to propel themselves forward. Their tails act as a rudder to direct them and also provide the buoyancy required to swim.
In this article, we look at the anatomy of a squirrel and explore their natural habitat and behavior with other animals to discover why they are good swimmers.
Are Squirrels Natural Swimmers?
Scientists studying squirrels’ behavior have found that when presented with water deep enough, squirrels engage all four limbs equally as they propel themselves forward.
Studying their aquatic abilities, researchers have reported that squirrels can swim up to two miles in an hour. Thanks to their strong hind legs providing forward propulsion and using their front paws for steering and balance, squirrels can even hold their breath underwater.
Squirrels have evolved to swim, allowing them to survive and thrive in environments with an abundance of water. Squirrels have advanced foraging skills, with their clever ability to find food in the water. They often consume aquatic insects and fish that are close to the surface, using their hind legs as buoyancy.
How Do Squirrels Swim?
With the aid of several adaptions, squirrels have what it takes to survive in an aquatic environment. Squirrels have evolved remarkable adaptations that make them surprisingly adept swimmers. They possess webbed feet to help propel themselves through the water, dense fur for insulation in cold temperatures, and a strong tail which they use as an effective rudder. They also boast special metabolic processes which allow their bodies to generate heat quickly so they can swim in icy waters.
- Squirrels use their strong back legs to propel themselves through the water. They are able to do this by kicking their back legs in a powerful and rhythmic motion.
- Squirrels rely on their bushy tails as a rudder, helping them to steer in the right direction while they’re in the water.
- Squirrels also use their tails as a floatation device, helping them to stay buoyant while they’re swimming.
Do All Species Of Squirrels Swim?
It is clear that the swimming ability of squirrels varies vastly depending on the species. Some, such as the American red squirrel, are great swimmers and can cross streams with ease. The northern flying squirrel has evolved to steer clear of aquatic activity and keeps largely confined to the trees.
Swimming isn’t a leisure activity for the squirrel. It is an adaptive behavior that gives them an escape from danger and access to new food sources. In times of peril, swimming can be lifesaving as well as provide sustenance in the form of fish, crayfish, or frogs.
The Advantages Of Swimming For Squirrels
Not only is swimming an excellent form of exercise for squirrels but it can also be used to save their lives when escaping predators. In places with large bodies of water like lakes or rivers, if ever confronted by predators, their ability to take refuge in the water allows them increased chances at survival and escaping potential harm.
In hot climates, the harmful effects of summer heat can be avoided by cool dips in available water sources. Not only is this beneficial for quenching thirst, but it offers a respite from sunny days and times spent under direct sunlight. Squirrels on hot days can often be seen in water to remain comfortable during warm weather conditions.
If you’re lucky enough to spot a swimming squirrel, observe them from afar with respect and caution. This will guarantee they feel secure while taking advantage of their aquatic adventure.
Are There Any Risks Associated With Squirrels Swimming In Your Pool?
Despite the charm of watching a squirrel swim, there is potential for danger. Drowning can be an unfortunate hazard if they get exhausted and unable to get out. If you have a pool and you find squirrels in there, then it may be a good idea to give them some way of getting out of the pool.
You can make pool ladders for squirrels to get out of the pond or pool using 12” wide netting, towels, or other easy-grip items over the side. These can be tied to trees, ladders, or any other heavy object. These can also be clamped to the side to stop them from slipping. Attaching a sinker to the other end of the ‘ladder’ will hold it in place. Several ladders should be placed around the water, ideally every 3 feet.
If you see a squirrel in your pool, then you may need to clean it out. With the chance of the squirrel defecating or urinating in the pool, there may be a potential danger of infection. If water is contaminated with bacteria or parasites, this increases your risk of sickness, so make sure you thoroughly check any swimming areas beforehand.
Taking precautionary steps such as treating or cleaning the area will help ensure that not only are you safe from contagions but also able to enjoy the pool without worry.
Are There Any Special Adaptations That Help Squirrels Swim?
While not as graceful while swimming as other animals, certain species are well-adapted to swimming. Their unique physiological characteristics allow them to survive and even thrive in various bodies of water.
A squirrel’s aquatic adaptations are particularly visible in its long, powerful tail. Acting as a rudder to aid navigation and balance while swimming or climbing logs & trees, the large tail allows the animal to steer while swimming.
The furry coats of squirrels serve to provide an essential aid while in water. The thick fur traps air pockets, giving them buoyancy on water surfaces while also providing insulation to stave off hypothermia.
Whether swimming or running, squirrels are agile thanks to their uniquely designed feet. Equipped with webbed toes for increased surface area and drag reduction capabilities in the water, these animals can move quickly through the water.
Swimming isn’t the only way squirrels stay afloat; they also use their tails to help them float and steer while swimming. Squirrels are able to curl up their tails so that it acts like a paddle wheel in the water, propelling them forward with each kick.
Additionally, the fur on their tails acts as a buoyancy device that helps keep them above the surface of the water while they swim. Because they are so well adapted for swimming, squirrels have even been known to survive in floods and other extreme conditions where other animals would struggle.
The fact that squirrels have evolved this incredible adaptation speaks volumes about their resilience and resourcefulness as a species. The next time you find yourself near a body of water, take some time out to see if you can spot any squirrels taking a mid-day dip.
Swimming In The Wild
Squirrels are incredibly resourceful animals, and their ability to swim has been observed in many different bodies of water. They can often be seen swimming in rivers, ponds, and even the occasional swimming pool in search of food that has fallen into the water, or as a way to escape from predators.
In some cases, squirrels have even been seen swimming across larger bodies of water such as rivers, likely to reach an island or other piece of land. This behavior is not common but has been documented by naturalists and is considered quite remarkable.
Squirrels possess a remarkable ability for swimming, as their bodies are specially adapted. Despite typically shying away from watery environments, some squirrel species may find themselves forced into an unexpected swim to survive.
Thanks to their powerful hind legs and dense fur, most squirrels can easily make it back ashore without assistance.
Squirrels may appear to be confident swimmers, however, they can encounter a number of risks when in the water. These animals lack the necessary fur insulation and air pockets that other mammals rely on for long swims.
If you find a squirrel struggling or stranded while swimming it is advisable to call animal control as soon as possible so appropriate measures can be taken before serious harm occurs; this includes hypothermia, drowning, and exhaustion.
References And Further Reading
Can Squirrels Swim? – Research-Based Proof to Guide Your Answer’ by Science ABC
Can Squirrels Swim? An Analysis of the Ecology and Physiology of Squirrels’ by the International Journal of Ecology.
Squirrels: Anatomy, Behavior, and Classification’ by the Encyclopedia of Life.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.