Water plays a pretty critical role in hydration and balancing electrolytes, no matter the species. That’s why some animals have extreme adaptations, like tortoise species in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts being able to reabsorb fluids from their bladder, letting them go as long as a year without taking a drink!
On the other end of the spectrum, though, there are animals like the elephant, who drink a lot of water, based only on their size.
So, what are some animals that drink a lot of water?
Some animals that drink a lot of water include camels, giraffes, horses, proboscis monkeys, elephants, cows, marine iguanas, and saltwater fish. Many of these animals have adaptations that help them store water, while animals like horses, marine iguanas, and saltwater fish drink constantly because they don’t store water.
Below, I’ll talk about these thirsty animals that drink a lot of water, as well as how much they drink and why they need to drink so much water.
Many people believe it’s water that camels store in their hump, but it’s actually fat. Storing fat is one of those desert-friendly adaptations that camels have, like their long eyelashes and third eyelid that lets them see with their eyes closed.
Camels are pretty commonly used in desert climates for traveling, particularly because they are able to go so long without drinking water. In fact, camels that have access to plants take in moisture this way and they can go as long as 6-7 months without drinking in a temperate climate!
When a camel is given the opportunity, though, they are really big drinkers. Camels do need to refuel eventually and in one sitting, they can drink as much as 30 gallons of water! Scientists attribute their ability to drink so much to their unique, oval-shaped blood cells.
Like other herbivores, the giraffe does meet a lot of its water requirements through the foods that it eats. Giraffes are an animal that is constantly grazing because of the small amount of food it gets in each bite. Despite this, they still intake around 75 pounds of food every single day. They are one of the hungriest animals, but they are also one of the thirstiest!
When it comes to water, giraffes have been observed going weeks without water. This is likely because their favorite tree to eat from is the acacia tree. Acacia trees are covered in thorns but giraffes have adaptations that let them eat them, like thick, sticky saliva that coats any thorns that might get swallowed.
When it is available, though, the San Diego Zoo reports that the giraffe drinks around 10 gallons per day. This might be more in the wild, particularly when giraffes go a long time without drinking water and they are ready to refuel.
Giraffes may also drink less water in the wild because they are so vulnerable to predators like crocodiles with their neck bent. It’s not uncommon for giraffes to take turns drinking at the watering hole while others keep watch for predators.
While there are several animals that gallop like a horse, they don’t all share the same water requirements. Horses drink a lot of water because of their active lifestyle. Even when they aren’t in their natural habitat, they are active animals that regularly need the opportunity to run and expend energy.
Horses also have a metabolism that matches their high energy levels. A non-active, 1,100-pound horse drinks around 6-10 gallons of water on a cool day. This number can double depending on the circumstances. Work horses drink up to 18 gallons of water per day, while nursing mares drink up to 20 gallons. Outside temperatures can also make that number double.
Even though horses are really thirsty, they haven’t yet evolved the ability to store water well. So, horses would only last a few days without water before perishing, much less than the animals that we’ve talked about so far. Their large body size and respiratory system contribute to the species need for water.
Proboscis monkeys are known for their large, fleshy nose that scientists believe may be a way to attract mates. While they are generally arboreal in nature, meaning they live in trees, proboscis monkeys love the water and rarely stray more than 3/4 of a mile from the water. This is in part because of how frequently they drink.
The proboscis monkey calls rainforests and mangroves in the hot, humid climates of Borneo home. They are covered in thick fur, which may be one of the reasons these monkeys are so thirsty. It’s hard to stay hydrated when your body is constantly working to cool itself down.
Even with males weighing around 45 pounds and females being half their size, these animals drink anywhere from 1.3-2.6 gallons of water each day. They also have features like long fur that traps moisture and webbed feet that help them quickly swim away in case of predators also help proboscis monkeys stay cooler and more hydrated.
The average bathtub holds anywhere from 30-60 gallons of water– and that’s about how much an elephant drinks in a day! Elephants drink an estimated 25-50 gallons of water every single day. Their trunk is able to hold 2.5 gallons of water and they can use their tusks to dig wells and find water during a drought.
Water is so important to elephants and their big trunk allows and great sense of smell allows them to smell it underground. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see other animals following elephants because they know where the water is. Elephants also have a symbiotic relationship with animals like baboons because they dig watering holes for them.
In all mammals, water is important for hydration and balancing electrolytes. It’s no different for the large elephant. Its size and metabolism also play a role in how much water an elephant needs to drink each day, as it takes a lot of water to keep an animal that size hydrated!
When it comes to drinking the most water based on size, cattle might have the elephant beat because they drink so much per pound of body weight compared to other animals. Bulls drink a lot of water, especially when traveling long distances in the heat, but that’s nothing compared to what dairy cattle drink.
For the average male bull weighing around 1,600 pounds, water intake can be as much as 20 gallons of water per day. For a dairy cow, by contrast, water intake could be anywhere from 30-50 gallons per day. And, when the temperature is especially hot, it’s not uncommon for a cow’s water intake to double.
Even though cows are constantly grazing, they don’t always get water from their food. That being said, some fresh forage contains up to 80% water, while hay and other dried food sources only provide 10-15% water. The amount of food they intake and how hydrating it is also plays a role in how much water a cow needs to drink per day.
Marine iguanas have a large, downward pointed nose that they put into the water and drink like a straw. While it’s not known how many gallons of water they drink per day, these big creatures are frequently seen with their nose down in the water in the wild.
The other reason marine iguanas constantly have their head underwater is because their diet consists primarily of algae. Algae is very salty. Fortunately, marine iguanas have salt-filtering glands found in the nose that allow them to remove excess salt from its body.
Drinking a lot of water is pretty important for filtering out all the drying salt that comes from the algae a marine iguana eats, plus any water that it drinks. They are unable to store any type of water, so they drink frequently throughout the day to stay hydrated.
It is impossible to know how much fish drink because they are constantly filtering water through their gills. That being said, saltwater fish have to constantly intake water because of the salt found in the ocean. The concentration of salt makes the water outside of a fish denser, so the lower-density filtered water is constantly being pulled out through the gills.
Different marine animals deal with the high levels of salt in their natural environment in different ways. Sharks, for example, have a high concentration of urea in their body that stops fluids from flowing out. So, they don’t have to constantly drink water like other saltwater fish to deal with the high salt concentration in the water around them.
In addition to constantly drinking water to stay hydrated, saltwater fish are constantly losing salt. They filter it out through their kidneys and can also remove the salt with specialized cells found in fish gills.
Why Are Animals That Drink A Lot Of Water So Thirsty?
In the case of all mammals though, including humans, water is responsible for a lot of things in the body. Water plays a role in regulating body temperature, muscle contractions like those that keep your heart beating, aiding in the digestive process, lubricating the joints, removing waste from the body, balancing pH and electrolyte levels, and so much more.
In all animals, the amount of water varies based on the animal’s size and metabolism, how hot the climate that they live in, activity levels, how much water they get from food sources, and other factors. So, the reason that certain animals are extra thirsty really depends on which animal you’re talking about.
Why Do Some Animals Drink So Much Water And Others Barely Drink Water At All?
The one thing that all living things have in common is a need for water. From the biggest animals like hippos and the mighty elephant to microscopic bacteria, water is necessary for survival. Even plants and fungi need water. So, why do some animals not seem to need it as much as others?
Animals adapt to their environment in different ways. Some animals don’t drink as much water because their metabolism doesn’t demand it, they don’t need it, or because their body stores it so they don’t have to drink as often. Factors like an animal’s level of activity and the climate they live in also play a role.
Why Do Some Animals That Drink Water Need Less?
For animals that don’t have regular access to fresh water, the best solution is to not need as much or to adapt in some way that lets them store water or fat for later use. Camels, for example, store fat in their humps and they can use that for energy when they go for long periods without drinking.
The desert tortoises I mentioned at the beginning of the article store water in the form of urine in their bladder. They are able to do this because they have a large, 16-ounce bladder and they have the ability to re-absorb this into their body so they can last up to a year without drinking.
There is also an Australian frog that can absorb fluid from its bladder for up to 2 years while it lies in hibernation. This frog takes water conservation a step further by covering itself in a mucous-like coating during droughts to prevent excess water loss.
Another example is the kangaroo rat. The kangaroo rat doesn’t drink at all. Instead, it relies on the small amount of fluid in the seeds that it eats to provide hydration for its body.
These are just a few different examples of animals that take it to the other extreme. There are more of them in the animal kingdom that conserve or store water in some way, of course, but that’s information for another time.
Some animals that drink a lot of water do so because their body does not store it well, like in the case of horses, marine iguanas, and saltwater fish. Other animals drink a lot of water to store it for later, like camels and giraffes.
The amount of water an animal needs for survival changes based on their activity level, how hot or cold their climate is, the animal’s metabolism, whether or not an animal is lactating, its body weight, and other factors. It’s kinda just like the way it works with humans!