What is Hippopotamus?

Looking for some hippopotamus facts? If yes, your search ends here. Hippopotamus is a semiaquatic, mostly herbivorous animal. It is native to countries of sub-Saharan Africa. The meaning of hippopotamus is river horse.

Hippopotami are big animals. Since they are herbivores, they may look benign, but they are not! They are considered as one of the most dangerous wild animals out there in the world. This big fellow comes with multiple surprises. Let us learn some hippopotamus facts today!

Before we learn more amazing facts about hippopotamus, let us learn its scientific classification.

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Hippopotamidae
  • Genus: Hippopotamus
  • Species: H. amphibius

Now that we know its scientific classification, let us learn some facts about hippopotamus.

Hippopotamus Facts: 1-5

1. The scientific or binomial name of hippopotamus is Hippopotamus amphibious. They are also known as river hippopotamus, hippo, and common hippopotamus.

2. The word hippopotamus is derived from hippopótamos, an ancient Greek word. The word hippos mean horse and potamus means river. So, hippopotamus means horse of the river.

3. There are only two species in the family Hippopotamidae. Those two species are hippopotamus and pygmy hippopotamus.

4. There are five subspecies of hippopotamus. They are:

  • Angola hippopotamus – It is seen in Angola, Namibia, and the southern part of Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Cape hippopotamus – It is also called the South African hippopotamus. It is present from South Africa to Zambia.
  • East African hippopotamus – It is present in Somalia and Kenya.
  • Nile hippopotamus – It is also known as the Greater northern hippopotamus. It was earlier seen from Nile river in Egypt to Mozambique and Tanzania.

5. Most of the species of the family, Hippopotamidae, became extinct. Did you know that hippos were spread across Europe and Asia? However, there were no hippos in Americas.

Hippopotamus Facts: 6-10

6. Hippos are third largest land mammals or terrestrial mammals in the world. They are smaller than elephants and rhinoceros. Whales, dolphins, porpoises, etc.

7. They are 2.90 meters to 5.05 meters long. The tail adds around 35 to 36 centimeters of length. From shoulder, they are between 1.3 and 1.65 meters tall.

8. Male hippos weigh nearly 1,500 kilograms whereas females weigh 1,300 kilograms approximately.

9. It is seen that males keep growing till they die and can reach a weight of 4,500 kilograms! However, females stop growing at around 25 years.

10. Their body shape is similar to a barrel. They have short muzzles and short legs. Due to gravitational force and their massive weight, they move slowly on the ground.

Hippopotamus Facts: 11-15

11. They can’t jump but can climb steep banks. They usually trot but they can gallop at a speed of 30 kilometers an hour or 19 miles per hour. They walk in water at a speed of 8 kilometers an hour or 5 miles per hour.

12. They cannot swim but have webbed feet. They walk on sandbanks. They can’t even float. Did you know that hippos rise to the water surface unconsciously even while sleeping without waking up? They resurface every three to five minutes (for adults) and every two to three minutes (for young ones).

13. The nose, eyes, and ears are placed on top of the head so that these structures can remain above water when the hippo is submerged.

14. Scrotum is not seen in hippos. The penis remains in the body when hippo is not sexually aroused. Female hippo’s vagina is also a bit unusual.

15. A female hippo’s bite force is 8.1 kN (kilo Newton) or 1,800 psi (per square inch). Just for comparison, average bite force of human is 126 psi and the highest human bite force to date is 270 psi!

Hippopotamus Facts: 16-20

16. They are pseudo-ruminants meaning they have three chambered stomach, but they don’t chew cud.

17. The skin of hippos is 6 meters thick. Unlike bears, the fat layer is thin. They are almost hairless animals.

18. Did you know that hippos skin secretes a sunscreen? The sunscreen is transparent but then quickly changes to red and finally to brown. The secretion helps in stopping bacterial growth, protecting the skin from UV rays, acts as an antibiotic, and controls the body temperature.

19. Upper body parts are blue-black to purplish-grey whereas the under parts are brownish pink.

20. As said earlier, they are present in Africa. They prefer forest and Savannah areas and freshwater habitats. Presence of water in abundant quantity is necessary for their living. They stay in water for nearly 20 hours a day.

They come to land only to eat. A major part of their diet includes grass. In a day, they spend around 4 to 5 hours grazing. Adults eat about 80 pounds of grass. They travel nearly 10 kilometers or 8 miles to fulfill their quota of food.

Hippopotamus Facts: 21-25

21. However, there are reports of carrion-eating, predation, and cannibalism in hippopotamuses.

22. Did you know that their defecation provides land nutrients to aquatic animals? However, the poop can get toxic if it is huge quantities.

23. Several fish species clean the teeth of hippos. It is an example of mutualism, a type of symbiosis. Here, the fish are getting food and hippo’s teeth are getting cleaned.

24. Hippos live with other apex predators like lions, crocodiles, etc. Lions are seen preying on hippos (mostly adults), but it is exceedingly rare. Hippos and crocodiles on the other hands, hunt each other down. Crocodiles are victims of hippo aggression. Crocodiles mostly attack young and female hippos, and even injured males.

25. Hippos don’t show sexual dimorphism meaning you can’t easily differentiate between a female hippo from young males. They are not social animals. Bonds are formed only between mother and daughters. However, the reason why they crowd up so close is not known.

Hippopotamus Facts: 26-30

26. Group of hippos is called bloat. A bloat can contain around 11 hippos – one male and 10 females. Some bloats can have 100 hippos! Young males are allowed to be in a bloat given the condition that they remain submissive towards the alpha male.

In a bloat, there is a clear-cut segregation of genders and ages meaning a young male stays closer to other young males, females stay together, etc. The male remains solitary. When they come to graze, they do it individually.

27. Similar to other animals, they use their pee and poop to mark their territory. Yawning is a form of threat display. Males commit infanticide when there is habitat loss or there is overpopulation.

28. They use bellows and grunts to communicate. They even use echolocation sometimes, but the purpose is not known. They have the ability to hold their head above the water partially and produce a sound that travels both air and water.

Other hippos also respond under water. They also exhale to display alarm and threat.

29. Female hippos reach sexual maturity at the age of 5 to 6 years whereas males reach sexual maturity at the age of 7.5 years. The gestation period is 8 months. After pregnancy, a female hippo doesn’t ovulate for 17 months.

30. Mating takes place in water. Calves are also born under water. Calves weigh 25 to 50 kilograms and has a length of nearly 127 centimeters or 4.17 feet. Usually, only one calf is born but sometimes twins are also seen.

Hippopotamus Facts: 31-35

31. The calves suckle under water because hippos can close their ears and nostrils when underwater. They sleep on their mother’s back if the waters are too deep.

32. They (calves) wean when they are around eight to nine months old (a year maximum). Calves usually indulge themselves in playfights.

33. In 2006, there were around 125,000 to 150,000 hippos. IUCN listed hippos as ‘Vulnerable’ in its Red List in 2008.

34. They are notorious for their attacks and aggression. If you get between them and water, it is impossible to come out alive. They use their massive canines to fight. They kill nearly 500 people in Africa every year!

35. They live up to 36 years in the wild. The life expectancy increases when they are captive. The longest living hippo is said to have lived for 67 years in Philippines’ Manila Zoo.


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