It may seem like a mystical feat to walk on water. However, over 1,200 animal species have evolved to be able to move on the water’s surface. Whether that’s jumping, gliding, running, or walking. Each species has their own unique techniques to allow them to accomplish this. While most use this ability to escape from predators, some do it just for fun. Let’s learn more about 14 animals that can walk on water and how they are able to stay afloat.
14 animals that can walk on water
1. Fishing spiders
Scientific genus: Dolomedes
Fishing spiders have eight powerful legs covered in waxy, waterproof hair that allows them to stay balanced as they walk, glide, or row on the water’s surface. They use surface tension to stay afloat since water molecule bonds are stronger at the surface where the water meets the air.
When they are running away from predators or hunting prey, you’ll see them bounce along the surface in a faster gallop than their normal calm gliding.
2. Pygmy geckos
Scientific family: Sphaerodactylidae
Pygmy geckos are known for their ability to not just walk or run on water but also stand and hang out. These small lizards of around 2.7 inches long can rest on the water’s surface, similar to a fishing spider. One main reason they can do this is due to their water-repellent skin preventing them from breaking the surface tension of the water.
3. Basilisk lizards
Scientific genus: Basiliscus
Basilisk lizards, also known as the Jesus lizard, get this nickname from their ability to run fast on the water. They can move as far as 5 feet per second and up to 15 feet or more on the water’s surface when they need to escape from predators.
This is because they are moving so fast that, when their hind leg skin fringes slap against the water, air pockets are formed to keep them from sinking.
4. Common house geckos
Scientific name: Hemidactylus frenatus
Common house geckos can also run on water, even though they are too large to stand on the water like pygmy geckos and too small to run upright like basilisk lizards.
They use a combination of water-walking strategies such as water surface slapping, using surface tension, and body and tail movements to run along the water’s surface. Geckos are common in several U.S. states with a warm climate like Florida.
5. Fire ants
Scientific genus: Solenopsis
Fire ants are known for their incredibly painful, even deadly, stings. However, they also have a neat survival tactic that allows them to float and move on the water’s surface.
In situations where a colony is displaced or disrupted by flood water, the ants come together to form a living raft of thousands of individuals. The raft then propels itself along by creating large amounts of surface water tension, so they can stay afloat and alive until they find a new home.
6. Water striders
Scientific family: Gerridae
Water striders, also called pond skaters and Jesus bugs, can stay afloat on water and walk about by rowing their long, spindly legs to create swirls under the water’s surface.
Their legs are covered with tiny, water-repellent hairs that trap air and prevent them from breaking through the water’s surface tension layer. Their long legs also allow them to equally distribute their weight so they don’t sink.
Scientific family: Culicidae
Mosquitoes may be pests, but they are talented in their ability to walk on water and up walls. Their ultra-flexible legs have three sections, including grooves that contain pockets of air to help them stay afloat.
They also leverage surface tension. This ability to walk on water allows them to lay and hatch their eggs on the water’s surface.
8. Common freshwater snails
Scientific name: Sorbeoconcha physidae
Freshwater snails live in ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams and have adapted amazing abilities to crawl upside down at the water’s surface. They create ripples on the surface to create a “foothold” and use surface tension and water pressure to their advantage.
They also stay buoyant in the water by trapping air inside their shells. Although crawling at only a speed of 0.07 inches per second, it’s still an extraordinary feat.
9. Pygmy mole cricket
Scientific family: Tridactylidae
A tiny insect around 0.25 inches long, the pygmy mole cricket uses their hind legs to help them jump or hop on the water’s surface. Although they have six legs, their giant hind pair have spring-loaded, oar-like paddles to propel water downwards and launch themselves into the air. They can jump up to 5.4 times their body length.
Scientific family: Delphinidae
Dolphins are sociable and intelligent animals that can dance upright above the water’s surface, including moving forward and backward by using their tail. The behavior is called “tail walking” and is mostly done for fun or social reasons.
Typically only dolphins in captivity have this ability because of their training. However, scientists found that wild dolphins can be taught by released captive dolphins how to also do this trick. This goes to show just how intelligent these animals are.
11. Flying fish
Scientific family: Exocoetidae
Although not actually “walking,” the flying fish is notable since they have an incredible ability to glide on the water’s surface as if they were walking. They have winglike pectoral fins and a streamlined body that allow them to glide up to 650 feet after launching into the air. The act is typically reserved for escaping predators.
12. Glacier bay water shrew
Scientific name: Sorex alaskanus
Glacier bay water shrews trap air bubbles in the stiff hairs on their feet in order to run on water. These small rodents, ranging between 3 to 6.5 inches long, are also great swimmers with water-resistant fur. When they stop swimming and air gets trapped in their fur, they can float right back to the surface.
Scientific family: Podicipedidae
Grebes are large migratory seabirds that spend most of their time in the water. Not only are they great divers and swimmers, but they are one of the largest animals that can run on water.
They typically do it only as part of a mating ritual, where couples run together for up to 30 feet and as fast as 22 steps per second. They remain afloat by slapping their lobed (not webbed) feet on the water.
Scientific genus: Hydrobates
Although not technically “walking” on water, the storm petrel deserves a notable mention for their ability to hover just above the water while moving their feet across the surface as if they are walking. Sometimes it looks like they are engaging in a bouncing dance.
These seabirds spend most of their life in the water and actually have weak legs that prevent them from walking more than a couple of steps at a time on land.