Can Geckos Swim? The Essential Fact-File

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Many owners of geckos are interested in the question of how a gecko would fare in water. This may be because they are potentially thinking of letting them live with other water-loving animals in the same habitat, for example sharing a terrarium with a variety of toad. But if you do this, which is definitely possible, and you have a source of water present for the toad, would this provide a danger to the gecko? In short, can geckos swim?

There is evidence that whilst some geckos have the ability to swim to some extent, overall the many species of geckos are not really good swimmers, and continual access to water could be dangerous and may potentially result in them drowning. Geckos may enjoy swimming under supervision in reasonably shallow water.

There is a difference of opinion on the subject amongst many gecko owners. Some report that their geckos can swim and seem to enjoy it. Many more think it is too dangerous, and others have tried it and their animals have drowned. There is a lot to consider, so keep reading to find out the full ins and outs of this tricky issue.

Can Geckos Swim?

This is a contentious issue, and one that has different opinions amongst gecko owners. There are many that report that their geckos regularly swim in shallow troughs and that they enjoy the process.

Other owners say their geckos seem quite distressed by going in water and do not understand the experience.

There is scientific evidence that some types of gecko are definitely able to swim quite well in the right conditions, but whether they would chose to is not certain.

Geckos Can Run On Water

There was some research carried out in 2018 that actually found out that geckos could run across the surface of water.

The study was done by Dr Nirody and Judy Jinn, were graduate students at the University of California in Berkeley.

The geckos in question were the common house geckos. They built a large tank and filmed them in slow-motion video. They found that the geckos ran at a speed similar to their land-speed across the water. They could also half-swim and half-run.

Some geckos have skin that is hydro-phobic. This basically means that it is water-repellent. When running over the surface of water, this means that the water skims over their skin and actually produces a kind of aquaplane effect.

Unfortunately, there were some serious downsides to the experiment that owners should be aware of. The scientists experimented with putting different amounts of soap into the water.

Having soapy water made the running much harder for the geckos. Apparently this is because of some kind of issue with the surface tension of the water.

Some geckos became so exhausted running in the soapy water that they basically gave up and just sank to the bottom of the pool where they stayed (before being saved). Without intervention they would have drowned.

Apparently they were able to hold their breath for quite a long time under water, but in reality if this was unsupervised in a terrarium they would drown.

This experiment provides food for thought to both sides of the argument. It shows that some geckos do have the ability to both swim and run across water. However, there is also clearly a danger to this, and they are not fully in control of the experience or if something goes wrong.

leopard gecko

Can Geckos Breathe Under Water?

Geckos have lungs in the same way that humans do, and so are not able to breathe underwater. They breathe air, and in fact you can see their chests go up and down.

They are not to be confused with amphibians – geckos are reptiles. There is no species of reptile that I am aware of that is able to breathe under water. Some may think crocodiles do, but that is because the crocodile’s nostrils are breathing air above the surface of the water as they swim through it.

Can A Gecko Drown?

Geckos can drown, and unfortunately I have heard of this happening several times if they are place in an environment with a large water source, such as a pool or water feature.

Can Geckos Swim Under Supervision?

If you feel your gecko enjoys and benefits from swimming, then you can definitely let them do it under supervision.

You can fill a trough or bath with a few inches of water and let them swim in it. Other things you might consider to enhance the experience are:

  1. Placing rocks in the water at different points for them to swim in between, and so they can climb out if they are having difficulties
  2. Placing something like a log into the water for them climb out with onto dry land.
  3. Keep the water reasonably pure and don’t add soap

If the gecko is supervised then this should be a safe experience, and you can always scoop them out if they look distressed or get into difficulties. Geckos can hold their breath for quite a while, so even if they go under water for a few seconds this should not be dangerous to them.

Brazilian Pygmy Gecko

Some geckos are designed to resist all water! The Brazilian Pygmy Gecko lives in the Brazilian rainforest. A very small breed of gecko, as its name suggests, it has hydrophobic skin that is water repellent. This is great for two things:

  1. When huge water droplets land on it in the rainforest (giant drips from the trees below), they wash straight over it
  2. If it falls into large puddles it is able to float and therefore get out again. It is literally able to stand on water

Although this gecko is perfectly designed for this kind of experience, all geckos have similar abilities. They are somewhat water-repellent and can probably get out of a pool of water.

However, this does not necessarily mean that they either want or enjoy this type of experience.

Can Geckos Share Their Habitat With A Water-Loving Animal?

This is another contentious issue. Geckos can certainly sometimes share their habitat with other species, though of course sometimes this might go wrong as well.

If the other species needs water, however, the case is more complicated. Without constant supervision, which is of course impossible, there is a chance that the gecko may get into difficulties and drown.

There are many gecko owners who have tried this and reported that their gecko has lived a happy and long life, and has regularly accessed the water.

However, there are other stories of geckos that have drowned.

There is of course no hard and fast rule, but my personal recommendation would be to err on the side of caution, and keep geckos away from unsupervised deep water.

Are There Any Other Types Of Lizard That Can Swim?

Some breeds of lizard are good swimmers. Chameleons are great in the water, helped by the fact that they inflate themselves to help them float better.

Bearded Dragons are also excellent swimmers. However, strangely, some bearded dragon owners report that their animal really does not like going in the water at all.

There are many types of large lizard that are fantastic in the water, but these are seldom kept as pets.


There is evidence that many geckos are able to swim and even run on water, but all-in-all, it is can be fraught with dangers. Some geckos may enjoy swimming under supervision but many do not seem to enjoy even that and do not seem to ‘get’ the experience.

Geckos are built for land, and although their skin may be water-repellent, they are not designed physically or psychologically to be in the water. Some will enjoy the water, and you would be wise to let them take part in this activity, but for some keeping well away from pools and water features would be the safest bet.

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