Most of us are familiar with the way that ducks, swans, and geese can float effortlessly around a pond. But did you know that there are at least a dozen other animals that can float on water too? While they don’t all rely on the same floating mechanisms as waterfowl, they are able to float using their own unique characteristics.
So, what animals can float on water?
There are actually several animals that float on water, outside of various types of ducks, swans, and geese that we’ve seen floating across ponds. Animals including corgis, peacocks, hippos, plankton, bearded dragons, pygmy geckos, dolphins, and tortoises all float. There are also several insects that float, including worms, lice, fleas, and ants.
For the sake of this article, it’s important to note that floating is not the same thing as being able to swim through the water. Many animals can swim because they rely on their ability to use their limbs to help keep them afloat in the water. This article is all about the animals that just float.
23 Animals That Float on Water
Let’s take a closer look at these animals that float on water, as well as the unique features that let them achieve this feat.
The hippopotamus is considered the deadliest mammal in Africa, with around 500 people being killed by hippos annually. That’s twice as many people than are killed by lions each year.
While many people have witnessed hippos floating in the water, they actually can’t swim. This is because of the large, dense bones that make up their body. If it weren’t for the buoyant fat surrounding it, hippos wouldn’t be able to float at all.
Hippopotami also have large, wide legs that don’t really bend or push them through the water well. Instead of swimming, hippos take a big breath before going underwater and bob just below the surface.
Ducks, Swans, and Geese
Many of us have heard that saying, “like water off a duck’s back” as a way of saying to just brush things off. There is some truth behind this- ducks really do have feathers that repel the water.
Waterfowl have bodies built to help them stay on top of the water. Their bodies are naturally buoyant because of the way their feathers are designed. A goose or duck’s feathers have small barbs on them that latch together.
The small air bubbles that get trapped in waterfowl’s feathers keep them afloat when they get in the water. Plus, their feathers repel any water that would push the air out.
Peacocks are able to float using the same mechanics that most waterfowl have. Their feathers are interlocking and they trap air bubbles that help them bob on top of the water.
Unlike ducks and other waterfowl, peacocks do not have webbed feet. Most people think this means that peacocks can’t swim in the water- but this peacock sure is getting around.
That being said, there’s a good chance you won’t really see a peacock out getting its feathers wet. Most of them tend to hate water, so they avoid it whenever possible.
Porcupines, Hedgehogs, and Giraffes
Porcupines aren’t really fans of the water and in most cases, you won’t see them in the water unless it’s absolutely necessary. They don’t have the anatomy to swim, but porcupines are able to float really well.
The reason that porcupines float so well is because of their quills. Porcupine quills are hollow and filled with air, which is what makes them buoyant. Hedgehogs also are buoyant because of their quills, though they are much better swimmers than the porcupine.
Porcupines are similar to giraffes in the sense that while they might float, they don’t move well through the water. It is believed giraffes would float by stretching out their neck to keep their head above water.
The large surface area of the giraffe would let it float, but it would be clumsy and awkward in the water. There are also a handful of other animals that float in the water if absolutely necessary, but only for survival.
Many first-time bearded dragon owners are startled the first time they give their beardie a bath. Bearded dragons puff up when they are in the water- their stomachs get rounder, wider, and more bloated looking. This happens because they swallow air when they go into the water.
Bearded dragons fill their stomach with air and their body becomes buoyant. Buoyancy is really important because a bearded dragon’s legs can help push it around once it’s floating, but they don’t have a big enough surface area to make bearded dragons good swimmers.
Many people use the words tortoise and turtle interchangeably, especially because they are two similar-looking animals. They both have shells and similar features, however, the tortoise is designed for living on land in a drier climate, whereas the turtle is better adapted for living on land and in water.
Tortoises float on water because they have large, domed shells compared to the smaller shells of the turtle that is better suited to swimming. They can do this because of the air trapped inside their shells.
You’ll also notice that the legs of a tortoise differ from those of a turtle. While turtles have legs that are better suited for pushing through the water, tortoises have legs that a short, round, and bend in the middle like elephant legs. For this reason, they are able to float but cannot swim.
The unique thing about water snails is that they float upside down under the surface of the water. In a way, they almost walk on water the way that water striders do- by using the surface tension to their advantage.
Water snails are buoyant because of the air trapped inside their shell, which lets the float up to the surface of the water. The snails are able to stay upside down because they create tiny ripples in the water similar to their natural movements, so they grip the water and move along under its surface.
Water Striders and Fishing Spiders
Water striders and fishing spiders kind of glide on top of the water. They rely on water tension on the surface of the water to keep them afloat and their respective coatings that make them waterproof enough to stay on top of the water.
Fishing spiders have a waxy coating that makes them waterproof and lets them glide across the water. Water striders, by contrast, are covered in tiny hairs that trap air so they can float. Both of these critters can move quickly across the water.
There are also a few other animals that walk on water by trapping air under their feet and quickly pushing off the surface of the water, including basilisk lizards and pygmy geckos. However, I didn’t give them their own category since they aren’t technically floating in the water- it takes a lot of effort to be able to move that fast. They also have to keep moving to stop from sinking under the surface.
Ants and Fire Ants
There are several ant species, including black ants and fire ants, that float on top of the water. However, it takes a lot of teamwork to stay afloat for an extended period of time. Fire ants especially are known for building rafts when they are dealing with flooding, hurricanes, or other weather disasters.
To form this raft, ants interlock their legs. The raft is made up of ants, including worker ants, larvae, and queens. They are able to float for a few reasons, starting with the way an ant’s body is designed.
Ants have a waxy coating on their body that stops water from penetrating the small hairs that cover their body. They trap air in these tiny hairs, which allows ants to float on top of the water.
The reason ants link their legs to form a big, floating ant raft is that they cannot breathe underwater. Since the ants on the bottom of the pile are submerged, the ants constantly rotate positions so everyone makes it through the water safely.
Earthworms float by filling their body with enough air to make them buoyant. While they won’t survive underwater forever, researchers have learned worms can actually live for several days underwater. Here’s a look at some other theories.
It was once believed that the earthworms you’d see on sidewalks and out of the ground after a rain had emerged to avoid being drowned by water in their tunnels. However, they actually might come out for migratory purposes. It’s easier to move through the soil when it’s wet.
Lice Nits and Fleas
Lice and fleas are both pests, with fleas preferring pets and lice preferring to latch onto the hair of human hosts. Both of them also float on top of the water.
While some lice bugs float, some also sink. Lice nits, however, float on top of the water. Lice are also semi-waterproof and they can hold their breath for hours. This could be something that has evolved over time because people, their preferred hosts, like water.
Fleas are small and rely on surface tension to keep them on water, so they only float in still water. They can also jump out of the water as long as it isn’t moving and they usually will- fleas don’t like the water.
Plankton are tiny microorganisms that can be found in freshwater and saltwater. They are free-floating and cannot really do anything about which way they float- they just move along with the current of the water.
Plankton are able to float because they are very lightweight but have a big surface area compared to their weight. They are also covered in small spikes that make their surface area even greater.
Most of the time, plankton travel horizontally because they stay near the top of the water’s surface. The exception to this is in lakes and rivers where plankton might move vertically because of the current.
The blobfish has won the title of ugliest creature in the animal world, according to the Ugly Animal Preservation Society.
While it’s considered a type of fish, it lacks a lot of other fish features including a swim bladder and a spine. The blobfish doesn’t even have muscles, which is the reason that it floats instead of moving through the water.
Chances are, if the blobfish had a swim bladder or spine, it’d be crushed by the atmosphere in the water that it lives in. The blobfish lives about 2,000-4.000 feet below the surface off the coast of Australia.
Once you reach these depths, there is around 120 times the atmospheric pressure that you experience standing on land. All the pressure at that depth would absolutely crush an animal with a spine.
It’d also crumple anything with air in it, like a swim bladder. Since they don’t have a swim bladder, blobfish float around using the natural movements of the water.
Blobfish also have a coating that makes them lighter than water, kind of like oil. They eat by swallowing crustaceans as they bounce around in the ocean.
While dolphins are capable of swimming, they also float on top of the water. Dolphins have a bone structure that makes them more buoyant than humans and their bodies hold more air, likely because dolphins live in water but don’t actually breathe when submerged.
Dolphins are likely to be observed floating when they are asleep. They sleep with their bodies about ten inches below the surface and breathe by opening up their blowhole.
Dolphins have two nostrils in their blowhole that they use for breathing when above water and they cover their nostrils and hold their breath when they dive below the surface.
Whales are another mammal that floats. Unlike dolphins that rely on their shape and air in their bodies to swim, whales float because of the thick layer of blubber that covers their bodies.
Blubber is basically fat. It works to keep animals warm when the ocean gets cold, so they don’t have to worry about freezing or hypothermia. This is really important for mammals like whales.
Like other types of fat, blubber isn’t as dense as water. This helps whales float near the surface of the water, which is good because they breathe air using a blowhole like dolphins.
Polar Bears and Seals
Polar bears and seals also float because they are covered in a thick layer of blubber that keeps them warm in Arctic conditions. Both animals are good swimmers and seals actually swim better underwater than they do on land.
While the large surface area of a polar bear lets it float in different conditions, seals have a much sleeker body for moving through the water. They can only float in saltwater because salt water has a greater density than fresh water.
This also could have something to do with how seals usually float. While they do swim and lay horizontally, they often sleep and float in the water like this, too.
While a lot of dog breeds swim, corgis actually float. Their barrel-shaped chest and high level of fat make them float on top of the water. However, you’re more likely to see them in the shallow end because their short legs don’t bend well and they can’t paddle through the water.
While corgis float, they aren’t the only dog breed that can’t swim. English bulldogs and Shih Tzus also cannot swim. Fortunately, they make dog-sized life vests for those breeds that can’t swim.
Why Do Animals Float on Water?
Some animals are made especially for floating. In the case of ducks, geese, and other waterfowl, the ability to float is important for keeping them on top of the water while they bob their heads down and look for food. Animals like fishing spiders and water striders also live in/around the water, so they float because it’s necessary.
For underwater critters that float like the blobfish and plankton, it’s necessary because otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to move around the ocean. Blobfish don’t have muscles and plankton aren’t strong enough to move against the current, so the shape of their body makes it easier for them to move with it.
In the case of many other animals, however, the ability to float comes down to survival. Animals like bearded dragons, porcupines, tortoises, fire ants, and the others on this list don’t live in water but may come across it in their natural environment. They are able to float because they can’t swim, so being able to float stops members of their species from drowning.
How Do Floating Animals Stay Afloat?
Animals stay afloat using different mechanisms. Animals like peacocks and waterfowl have feathers that trap air and a waterproof coating to keep the animal on top of the water. Some smaller animals rely on the surface tension of the water instead, including fleas, water striders, fishing spiders, and lice.
In some cases, animals like the bearded dragon and earthworms inhale air to keep them afloat. Tortoises and water snails float because of the air trapped in their shells. Animals like porcupines and the all-seeing giraffes float so they won’t drown, but they cannot move well through the water.
Animals like the blobfish are fatty and that makes them float, while whales, seals, and polar bears all have blubber that weighs less than the water they live in.
Some animals float on water float because it helps them move around in their natural living environment, while others have learned to float over time as a means of survival. Water can’t always be avoided and being able to float could be the difference between death and survival.
While some animals are naturally buoyant like the whale and blobfish, others like waterfowl and fleas float because of a coating on their skin. Other animals rely on inhaling air or having air trapped inside their shell, feathers, or other features to keep them on top of the water.