Swimming and diving behavior in apes (Pan troglodytes and Pongo pygmaeus): first documented report

Bender, Renato; Bender, Nicole (2013). Swimming and diving behavior in apes (Pan troglodytes and Pongo pygmaeus): first documented report. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 152(1), pp. 156-162. Wiley 10.1002/ajpa.22338

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Extant hominoids, including humans, are well known for their inability to swim instinctively. We report swimming and diving in two captive apes using visual observation and video recording. One common chimpanzee and one orangutan swam repeatedly at the water surface over a distance of 2-6 m; both individuals submerged repeatedly. We show that apes are able to overcome their negative buoyancy by deliberate swimming, using movements which deviate from the doggy-paddle pattern observed in other primates. We suggest that apes' poor swimming ability is due to behavioral, anatomical, and neuromotor changes related to an adaptation to arboreal life in their early phylogeny. This strong adaptive focus on arboreal life led to decreased opportunities to interact with water bodies and consequently to a reduction of selective pressure to maintain innate swimming behavior. As the doggy paddle is associated with quadrupedal walking, a deviation from terrestrial locomotion might have interfered with the fixed rhythmic action patterns responsible for innate swimming.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Pre-clinic Human Medicine > Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine

UniBE Contributor:

Bender, Nicole


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 360 Social problems & social services








Doris Kopp Heim

Date Deposited:

25 Feb 2014 08:29

Last Modified:

26 Sep 2017 22:20

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

aquatic locomotion, breath control, phylogenetic constraints, water use in primates





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