A Florida woman was recently surprised to find two black bears taking a swim in her backyard pool—but not so surprised that she couldn’t whip out her iPhone and record the spectacle on video. (Also see “Longest Polar Bear Swim Recorded—426 Miles Straight.”)
These black bears are far from the only animals to have been captured on film taking a dive into the deep end. YouTube has countless videos of these animal antics—not even counting videos of pet parents attempting to bathe their cats. It does, however, raise the question: Why are so many animals going skinny-dipping in our backyard pools?
Thankfully, science can give us some answers. Although no one has specifically studied wildlife in swimming pools, researchers have examined various aspects of animal behavior that can help explain what might be going on.
The first answer is fairly obvious: The animal fell in by accident, possibly confused by the sparkling water or spooked by a predator. Researchers have also documented curiosity in a variety of animal species, which hints that the animal could have been investigating that strange blue rectangle in the ground when it suddenly found itself in deep water.
That’s what may have happened to this fawn, which a family discovered paddling in their backyard pool. The father helped Bambi, bleating with fear, out of the pool. The spooked fawn then ran off into the woods.
Another reason that animals may take a swim is the same that many of us humans flock to the pool. It’s hot out, and we’re looking for a way to cool off. Scientists have shown that getting wet is an effective way for animals to cool off. Pigs wallow in mud to keep cool, red kangaroos lick their forelimbs, and, in 2009 at a zoo in China, a lion and tiger even ventured into the wet stuff.
Water is an effective way to lower body temperature because when you step out, the water left on your body begins to evaporate. The warmest water evaporates first, leaving the cooler water (and a layer of goosebumps) behind.
Play may seem like a behavior confined to human children, but scientists studying animal behavior have found that many animals play: It’s how many species learn the skills they will need to survive as adults.
For instance, herring gulls (Larus argentatus) play with their food, dropping and retrieving it in an elaborate game of catch as practice for getting a meal. Dogs play-wrestle to learn appropriate social and hunting behaviors.
Lack of Habitat
Human habitat now extends far onto land that used to belong primarily to other species. Perhaps they’re not swimming in our pools, we’re just adding a water feature to their front yards. That could be what happened to this moose, which walked into a family pool in Redmond, Washington, just outside Seattle.
In the end, no one can say for sure exactly what attracts animals to swimming pools. But as long as they keep coming, we humans will keep capturing Facebook-worthy moments on our smartphones.