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Can Reptiles Swim? 9 Reptiles That Can Swim Like A Fish

can reptiles swim?

The other day I was looking at a friend’s bearded dragon lounging in his water bowl and I wondered whether beardies – and indeed reptiles as a whole – can swim. So I started researching to see whether reptiles can swim and whether you can keep those cool reptiles as pets. This is what I found. 

Yes, many reptiles can swim – though some can swim much better than others. The reason why only some can swim mostly has to do with their natural habitat. Most reptiles that live in arid and desert areas can either not swim well, or can’t swim at all. All snakes, however, can swim. 

There are various types of reptiles that can be kept as pets who can also swim. What’s cooler than having a reptile as a pet? Having one that can swim as a pet! Keep reading to find out which reptiles love spending time in water and whether they are the right pet reptile for you.

What Is The Difference Between Aquatic And Semi-Aquatic Reptiles?

Aquatic reptiles are those reptiles that spend all or the majority of their lives in water (salt or freshwater). Examples of aquatic reptiles are:

  • Salt marsh snakes
  • Sea snakes
  • Sea turtles like the Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).
  • Marine Iguanas
  • Red-eared slider turtles
  • Yellow-bellied slider turtles
  • Musk turtles (stinkpots)
  • Anaconda
  • Saltwater crocodile
  • Mangrove monitor

Semi-aquatic reptiles – as you’ve probably guessed by now – are those reptiles that spend most of their time on land, but also spend time in the water. Examples of semi-aquatic reptiles include:

  • Caiman lizards
  • Chinese water dragons
  • Sailfin dragons or lizards
  • Australian water dragon
  • Plumed basilisk (Jesus lizard)
  • Nile monitor lizards
  • Water monitor lizards
  • Gharial
  • Dice snake
  • Water Moccasin snake

Semi-aquatic rather than aquatic reptiles are kept as pets as their needs are simpler, and their sizes are more manageable. You won’t be able to house a 7-foot leatherback in your home, for example! 

How Do Reptiles Swim? 

Although many reptiles can swim, not all of them will get a medal for being the most graceful swimmer. Especially those reptiles classified as semi-aquatic can look a bit … clumsy in the water. 

Reptiles, in fact, have a number of different ways in which they can swim. For example, snakes and turtles swim very differently. Not to mention the Jesus Lizard that can run on water as a defense mechanism. 

Lizards can only dive below the water for minutes at a time and most need to keep their nose above the water to ensure that they can continue breathing as they swim. They use their tails as a type of rudder to change direction in the water.

Many lizards will breathe deeply in order to help them float. They can then use their legs to paddle with and move themselves to where they want to be. 

Snakes, overall, use the same movements on land and in the water. The most common way in which snakes swim is by using undulating, serpentine movements.

This movement is the s-shape form that we usually think of when we think of a snake’s movement. 

Of course, those snakes that are aquatic reptiles are more adept at swimming and can swim for longer and swim further than terrestrial snakes.

Aquatic snakes can also have specific placement of nostrils and eyes to make it possible for them to hide nearly fully submerged beneath the water to wait for prey. Yellow anacondas are a good example of this. 

Turtles will use their legs to swim through water. They can hold their breath, making it possible for them to swim beneath the water’s surface. 

9 Popular Pet Reptiles That Can Swim And How To Care For Them 

Here are some of the most popular pet reptiles that can also swim. Some of them are very adept at swimming, like the Chinese water dragon, but some, like the bearded dragon, will only swim on occasion even when they have enough water to swim in. 

Bearded Dragons 

Although bearded dragons aren’t aquatic reptiles, they can swim and some of them absolutely love water and love swimming.

Unlike aquatic reptiles that need to have a water source to swim in in their tank, bearded dragons only need a normal water bowl from which they can drink or lie in as needed.

For swimming, it’s best to let them always do it supervised. 

Supervised swimming sessions can also be a great way for you to bond with your beardie, not to mention that it can help them with shedding and constipation. There are some steps that you need to take to ensure that your beardie is safe.

Note! You shouldn’t let your bearded dragon – or any reptile – swim in chlorinated swimming pool water as the chemicals can harm your reptile, cause eye infections and/or respiratory problems. It’s also important not to use a tub that you have previously used for cleaning as the remnants of cleaning products could harm your beardie. 

Items to use as a swimming pool for your beardie include a plastic basin or tub that you fill with water. You can also use a kiddies pool as your beardie’s swimming pool.

However, what is very important is that you use the kiddies pool, basin or tub only for your beardie’s pool as salmonella may remain behind in the pool/tub and infect you or a family member. 

Finally, make sure that the water that you put your beardie in isn’t cold, but body temperature as you don’t want to freeze your beardie!

Measure the temperature of the water with a thermometer, making sure that the water is between 90°F and 100°F. 

To place your bearded dragon in the water, support them on your hand and forearm and slowly lower your hand into the water and release them.

If they swim away on their own, they’re obviously in the mood for a swim, but if they seem uncomfortable or seem to struggle, remove them from the water immediately – it can take a while for them to get used to swimming or they may just not be in the mood for a swim. 

Make sure that your bearded dragon is completely dry before replacing them in their tank’s basking spot – and remember that the cloth or towel you use for this is also only used by your beardie to keep infections at bay.

Tip: Leopard geckos and crested geckos are also very popular pet reptiles. If you’d like to know how they swim and what kind of water part you can add to their enclosure, read these articles:

Caiman Lizards

difference between aquatic and semi-aquatic reptiles

These beautiful and fascinating semi-aquatic lizards aren’t your normal pet shop buy and they require a lot of space and a lot of care to thrive.

Caiman lizards are easy to identify by their bright coloring – a bright green or olive green body with a red or orange head and a tail that is brownish-black. Their tails sometimes even have yellow stripes.

Caiman lizards can grow to be up to 4 feet long (with males sometimes being closer to 5 feet), which means that they need a tank that is bigger than 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet tall.

As you can see, these lizards are only for advanced reptile parents with lots of space!  

Because caiman lizards are from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, they need a tropical enclosure in order to stay healthy.

Ambient temperatures inside your caiman’s tank should be 80°F to 90°F, with their basking spot reaching 100°F. Even at night the temperature in their enclosure shouldn’t be colder than 75°F.  Humidity should be between 60% and 80%. 

Their tank should be made to mimic their natural habitat as closely as possible; giving them ample climbing and swimming opportunities by adding large cork or mopani wood branches.

The water in their tank should be at least 12 inches deep in order for your caiman to be able to swim. Because they are semi-aquatic animals, you don’t have to dry a caiman lizard like you would a bearded dragon. 

Chinese Water Dragons 

can chinese water dragons swim?

Chinese water dragons, also called Asian water dragons and green water dragons are beautiful, bright green lizards that make for a great pet – as long as you have the space and time to give them the care they need.

Like all exotic pets, Chinese water dragons have very specific needs that you need to keep to in order to have a happy and healthy water dragon. 

Originating from Thailand, southern China, Vietnam and Cambodia, Chinese water dragons can now be found as captive-bred pets relatively easily.

These arboreal lizards live for 10 – 15 years and range from 2 to 3 feet in length. 

Because Chinese water dragons are arboreal – and therefore climb around a lot – you will need to give them a tall and long tank to live in in order for them to have enough space to be healthy.

The ideal tank shouldn’t be smaller than 6 feet tall, 3 – 4 feet wide, and 4 – 6 feet long (if you’re keeping a single adult Chinese water dragon). 

Chinese water dragon’s daytime temperatures should range from 84°F at the cool end of the temperature gradient to a basking spot of 95 – 100°F. Nighttime temperatures should range from 75 – 80°F.

The humidity of the tank should be 80%, as they’re used to hot, muggy weather. Be sure to have a hygrometer as well as a thermometer so you can keep a close eye on the humidity. 

Of course, the water you give your Chinese water dragon to soak and swim in, will also help to up the overall humidity of the tank.

The least you should give your Chinese water dragon is enough water to soak in. However, creating an elaborate, naturalistic tank habitat (complete with a pool) is ideal. 

Unlike bowls of water that can simply be changed daily, your Chinese water dragon’s pool must contain an aquarium filter and the water must be replaced regularly as they also defecate in the water.

Giving your Chinese water dragon a separate drinking bowl will make it a lot easier to keep their water sources clean. 

Corn Snakes 

Corn snakes aren’t just one of the most beginner-friendly and popular pet snakes; they also love water and love to swim.

You’ll see that your corn snake soaks in the water bowl in its tank, but – given enough water – they’ll happily swim around and even go underwater. But don’t worry, they can hold their breath!

Your corn snake will also (like other snakes) be able to swim instinctively. Simply give them a pool of water and a way to slither into it and watch them go.

Swimming isn’t just a fun activity and exercise for your corn snake either; the water can get rid of any mites that may be on their skin. 

This corn snake clearly enjoys its pool!

Corn snakes – like many others – also soak in water to soften their skin in order for it to slough off easily and in one piece.

This, in turn, will make it much easier and less dangerous for your corn snake to shed, as skin that comes off only in patches can end up leaving skin behind that can cause necrosis and even death in some instances. 

Corn snakes only need to swim for about 5 – 15 minutes and the water that you put them in should be warm (but not hot!).

The ideal temperature for corn snake’s water is 85°F to 100°F (29°C to 37°C). It’s important to always test the temperature of the water beforehand to ensure that the water isn’t too cold (or you’ll cause their temperatures to plummet) or too hot (or you can boil them by accident). 

When you let your corn snake swim, be sure to keep an eye on them and place stones or other objects in the water for your snake to slither up on and rest when they need it.

Rocks, hides and even driftwood (all prepared for your corn snake’s needs) can be placed in the water to create some resting platforms. 

Tip! Because all animals carry some types of pathogens, keep the tub, kiddies pool, etc. only for your corn snake to use in order to keep any pathogens from infecting you or your family by accident. 

Garter Snakes 

Garter snakes are found close to water in the wild and they also enjoy a good swim for much the same reasons as corn snakes. Like all snakes, garter snakes shed their skin as they grow.

This shedding is helped a lot by giving your garter snake a chance to soak and swim in some water (because why only soak when you have space to swim!). 

Garter snakes may also only swim for a few minutes before they’ve had enough, but keep an eye on them and let them finish swimming and get out on their own.

This will also help to give them some extra exercise that your garter snake would otherwise not get in their tank. 

At 0:47, you can see how well garter snakes can swim.

Make sure that the temperature of the water isn’t too cold or too hot (it should be between 85°F and 100°F (29°C to 37°C)) and replace your garter snake in their tank immediately after swimming to ensure that they don’t get too cold.

Their tank should measure a temperature gradient of 70°F to 85°F, with a basking spot of 90°F. 

Garter snakes need a humidity of 30% to 60%. Their water bowl will help with this, but you may also need to mist their tank.                                                 

Note! Never, ever let your snake swim in a swimming pool with chlorinated water as this is very bad for them and can lead to health problems. 

Green And Brown Anoles 

Green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) and brown anoles (Anolis sagrei) make for ideal beginner reptiles – and they love water! Like bearded dragons these reptiles aren’t semi-aquatic, but can swim well.

You can even put anoles in a “paludarium” (a tank with both substrate and water elements like you need for caiman lizards). 

You can also give your anole some time to swim when interacting with them by giving them a tub of water or kiddies pool and then just keeping an eye on them to make sure that they don’t tire too much and that they can get out of the water easily.

Place a rock or other object in the water that your anole can climb on top of when they’ve finished swimming.

Also, remember not to let your anole swim in water that’s too cold (aim for 80°F to 85°F, or 27°C to 29°C). 

You should definitely not do what the video shows but it gives you an idea of how well green anoles can swim.

After giving your anole a chance to swim, give them time to bask in order to correct their body temperature.

Make sure that the basking spot of your anole is 85°F to 90°F (29°C to 32°C). The temperature gradient in your anole’s tank should be 75°F to 80°F (24°C to 27°C). Humidity in your anole’s tank should be 60% to 70%.

Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks 

These gorgeous lizards – which look exactly like miniature dragons – are a relatively new reptile being kept as a exotic pet.

Red-eyed crocodile skinks (Tribolonotus gracilis) are originally from New Guinea, where they thrive in the high humidity and warm temperatures. 

Like the caiman lizards, red-eyed crocodile skinks need both a land and water habitat in their tank to ensure that they can swim and soak in the water as needed.

Because these skinks are semi-aquatic by nature, they need a lot more water than, say, a desert lizard species would.

The water in their tank will also help to keep the humidity high in the tank, which will contribute to your red-eyed crocodile skink’s overall wellbeing. 

Remember that, just as any other lizard, your red-eyed croc skink will need to have a temperature gradient in their tank in order to be able to regulate their body temperatures.

To keep the water from getting too cold, aim for having the water closer to the warmer side of the gradient, but not directly beneath your red-eyed croc skink’s basking spot. 

As for the temperature gradient, the warm side of the tank should be 82°F, with the cool part of the enclosure being 72°F to 75°F.

The nighttime temperatures shouldn’t be below 70°F, otherwise your red-eyed crocodile skink’s health may suffer.

The humidity inside the tank should be 80% to 95%. This can also be achieved by misting the tank daily or even more than once daily. Make sure that you have a good quality hygrometer to keep an eye on the humidity. 

Sailfin Dragons/Sailfin Lizards 

can sailfin lizards swim

These interesting and water-loving lizards aren’t as common as pets, and you’ll most likely need to contact specialty breeders for a sailfin lizard (Hydrosaurus spp.).

They are also more of an advanced pet to keep because of their specific needs and size. 

You will need a large tank for an adult sailfin – one that’s 5 feet long, 2.5 feet wide and 5 feet tall as a bare minimum. This is to ensure that there is not only enough space for them to move around in, but also enough space for the water that they need. 

The temperature gradient in a sailfin dragon’s tank shouldn’t be too great – only 85°F to 90°F. Your sailfin’s basking spot should be quite hot (115°F) and temperatures shouldn’t dip below 75°F to 80°F at night.

Humidity in a sailfin dragon’s tank should also be high and measure 70% to 80% at all times and you can measure this using a hygrometer. You can mist the tank if it dips below 70%.  

Ensure that the water source you have for your sailfin dragon is at least large and deep enough for them to soak in – preferably larger.

This water will also help the humidity in the tank to stay high for your sailfin to thrive in. You can also give your sailfin dragon some time to swim in a kiddies pool – just keep an eye on them and ensure that they can get out by themselves if they want to. 

Tip! Never let your sailfin – or any other reptile – swim in chlorinated water, for instance in a swimming pool. The chemicals can have adverse effects that outweigh the fun that they will have. Rather keep to kiddies pools. 

Turtles – The Red Ear Slider Turtle 

reptiles that can swim

Turtles also make for great pets, and they swim a lot.

You will just need to ensure that they have enough water for them to swim in in their tank itself, unlike some of the lizards that will still thrive even though they can only soak most of the time.

For this part of the article, we’ll look specifically at the popular red ear slider turtles and their needs. 

Red ear slider turtles need quite high temperatures and humidity in order for them to stay happy and healthy.

The ambient temperature in their tank should range from 73°F on the cool side, to 85°F to 95°F at the basking spot.

The water in your red ear slider turtle’s tank should measure 75°F to 80°F. A special type of water heater can be used to achieve these temperatures if required. 

The water in your red ear slider turtle’s tank should also be at least 1.5 to 2 times the length of their carapace to ensure that they are able to dive into the water and swim around instead of simply soaking in the water. 

Other semi-aquatic and aquatic turtles that you can keep as a pet, are:

  • painted turtles (Chrysemys),
  • mud turtles (Kinosternidae),
  • musk turtles (Kinosternidae),
  • pond turtles (Emydidae),
  • softshell turtles (Apalone spp.).

It’s important to know that softshell turtles and matamatas (Chelus fimbriata) spend almost all their time in the water; so their habitat in their tank should contain enough water for them.

Conclusion 

Reptiles for the most part love water and taking a dip every now and then. Even reptiles like bearded dragons which you don’t really think of as swimmers often like to swim.

Giving your reptile the opportunity to swim under supervision is not only fun for your reptile, but also another way for you to bond with your pet. 

Pierre And The ReptileCraze Team
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