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Nature & Environment Watch Apes Swim and Dive in a Pool: Chimps Use the Breaststroke (Video)

Watch Apes Swim and Dive in a Pool: Chimps Use the Breaststroke (Video)

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First Posted: Aug 14, 2013 11:10 AM EDT
Chimp
When someone else yawns nearby, you may feel like yawning yourself. This particular phenomenon is known as yawn contagion and is widely seen in humans. Yet we're not the only ones that have "contagious" yawns. It turns out that chimps also suffer from yawn contagion and that their susceptibility to it only increases as they grow older. (Photo : Reuters)

Apes aren't normally known for their swimming abilities. Now, though, scientists have taken a closer look at how these creatures move through the water. It turns out that unlike the dog-paddle stroke that most other animals use, apes instead employ a type of breaststroke.

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For years, zoos have used moats in order to confine gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans. While apes sometimes ventured into deep water, though, they often drowned. This seemed to indicate a fundamental difference between apes and humans, who can learn to swim and often enjoy water. Now, though, it seems that not all apes fear water. Instead, some primates can learn to both swim and dive.

The researchers studied a chimpanzee and an orangutan that were raised and cared for by humans in captivity. Both of these creatures were able to cope with water and, in fact, seemed to enjoy their time in the pool.

The chimpanzee, named Cooper, was especially zealous when he took to the water. In order to prevent the chipm from drowning, the researchers stretched two ropes over the deepest part of the pool. Cooper, in response, started diving into the pool to pick up objects from the bottom. In fact, he started swimming on top of the water only weeks later.

"It was very surprising behavior for an animal that is thought to be afraid of water," said Renato Bender, one of the researchers, in a news release.

He's not the only one, either. An orangutan named Suryia was filmed in a private zoo in South Carolina. She can swim up to twelve meters and uses a leg movement similar to the human breaststroke "frog kick." While Suryia moves her legs alternatively, though, Cooper moves his synchronous.

So what does this tell us about apes? It's very possible that this swimming style may be due to an ancient adaptation to an arboreal life. While most mammals use the dog-paddle instinctually, humans and apes must learn to swim.

"The behavior of the great apes in water has been largely neglected in anthropology," said Nicole Bender, one of the researchers, in a news release. "That's one of the reasons why swimming in apes was never before scientifically described, although these animals have otherwise been studied very thoroughly. We did find other well-documented cases of swimming and diving apes, but Cooper and Suryia are the only ones we were able to film. We still do not know when the ancestors of humans began to swim and dive regularly."

Currently, scientists are planning to conduct further research on this swimming behavior. The findings could eventually let researchers learn a little bit more about the evolutionary adaptations of both humans and apes.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Want to see the apes in action? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube.

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