Swimming Pigs and Other Surprising Animals That Love Water

Some cats, spiders, and moose are among nature's super swimmers.

People aren't the only creatures who like to make a splash.

When Dana Smith asked via Facebook, "My four-year-old wants to know, do pigs swim?" Saturday's Weird Animal Question of the Week decided to look at some typically terrestrial animals who also like the life aquatic.

Swine Dive

"Pigs are excellent swimmers," crossing water to seek food sources, escape danger or find better habitat, Billy Higginbotham, of Texas A&M University, says via email.

"For example, all of the heavy rainfall the last month in Texas has caused wild pigs to move—and in some cases, swim—out of bottomland areas and seek higher ground."

Some are even beach bums.

The Bahamas' Big Major Cay is home to feral pigs who swim with tourists.

Aaron Shultz of the Cape Eleuthera Institute, an environmental-education center in the Bahamas, says local lore is that Europeans once stocked the islands with pigs, enabling them to resupply ships returning home. But it's uncertain how the animals got to Big Major Cay.

Shultz speculates that "over time the pigs associated boats, boat-engine noise, and tourists with food," and learned to swim out to the tempting treats. (Also read about Gabon's legendary surfing hippos.)

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A feral pig swims off Cat Island in the Bahamas in 2008.

Spider Octonauts

Many arachnids are landlubbers, but not fishing spiders. When arachnologist Catherine Scott of Simon Fraser University tried to photograph a six-spotted fishing spider, it kept disappearing. She eventually discovered the little escape artist was going underwater. (See: "Fish-Eating Spiders Can Catch Prey 5 Times Their Size.")

These spider swimmers can submerge for up to 30 minutes to avoid predators or literally grab dinner (aquatic spiders are surprisingly fond of fish).

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A diving-bell spider (Argyroneta aquatica) in Europe is seen with air trapped in its webs.

They breathe underwater by trapping air in the water-repellent hairs on their abdomens, Scott says.

But they're not the only scuba spider.

Diving bell spiders trap air in webs that cover their bodies like their namesake apparatus. Oxygen in the surrounding water diffuses into the bell, allowing them to stay submerged for long periods.

Dog-Paddling Cats

Not all cats hate water. The endangered fishing cat of Asia is a fine swimmer that fishes by tapping the water to imitate insects, then diving in after their quarry, according to the National Zoo. (See "Fishing Leopards.")

Among domestic felines, the Turkish van is known for its unusual love of water.

Tiger Cubs Pass Swim Test November 7, 2013 - It was a big day for Bandar and Sukacita. The two Sumatran tiger cubs learned to swim the hard way—by getting dropped in the deep end. The cubs successfully passed their swim test, much to the delight of their keepers at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

For more cats making a splash, check out videos of a happy tiger taking his first dip and tiger cubs learning to swim (above).

Moose Munch

North American moose have a big summer job to do in a short time: shedding and regrowing winter coats and antlers, which are two-thirds grown by mid-July, says Vince Crichton, a retired wildlife biologist at Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship in Canada. (Read about how warmer, shorter winters are harming New England moose.)

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A bull moose swims in a pond in Alaska in 2004.

In early summer, these excellent swimmers (see video) feast on aquatic plants—including bladderwort, ribbon grass, and yellow water lilies—that contain replenishing sodium and minerals, he said by email. (Related: "How Do Moose Get So Big Eating Plants?")

Moose also swim to beat the heat, get rid of pesky flies, and escape danger; moose moms in particular will swim to islands to give birth as a means of avoiding predators.

Weird Animal Question of the Week answers your questions every Saturday. If you have a question about the weird and wild animal world, tweet me, leave me a note or photo in the comments below, or find me on Facebook.