55 Fascinating Facts About Hippos

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Facts About Hippos

The hippopotamus is a massive animal that spends most of its time in the rivers and lakes of Africa. Though many people know basic facts about these creatures, hippos have many traits that may surprise you.

Here are 55 fascinating facts about hippos that cover their anatomy, behavior, lifestyle, and role in African ecosystems.

Anatomy and Appearance

Hippos have a distinct look with their large, rounded body shape. Their sheer size is one of the main facts everyone knows about these semi-aquatic mammals. But there’s more to their physical features.

  1. Hippos can weigh over 9,000 pounds. They are the second largest land animal after elephants. Male hippos average 3,300 lbs while females average 3,000 lbs.
  2. They can reach lengths of 9 to 15 feet. Females tend to be smaller than males. Calves can weigh between 55-120 lbs at birth.
  3. Only the elephant has a larger mouth. An adult hippo’s mouth can open up to 150 degrees wide. Their jaws are powered by huge muscles and can bite down with over 2,000 psi.
  4. Hippos have curved canine teeth that can grow over 20 inches long. The two lower canines act as tusks that are used for fighting.
  5. They have thick, hairless gray skin. A clear, reddish oily secretion called “blood sweat” covers their skin and provides sun protection.
  6. Hippos have four toes on each foot. The toes are connected by webbed feet suited for swimming. Each toe has a nail.
  7. Their ears, eyes, and nostrils are located high on their head. This placement allows hippos to see, hear, and breathe while most of their body stays underwater.
  8. They have a small tail with a tuft of fur on the end. The function of the stubby tail is unknown. Some experts think it helps spread the hippo’s excrement to mark territory.

Behavior

Hippo fight 1/3
Hippo fight 1/3 by nilsrinaldi is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

Beyond their intimidating size, hippos exhibit many interesting behaviors. Understanding how they interact is key to staying safe around them.

  1. Hippos are considered the most dangerous land animals in Africa. They are unpredictable and aggressive. Most human deaths occur when boats are capsized by hippos.
  2. They establish territories that are marked with dung. Male hippos patrol a territory of about 6 square miles while females roam 1-2 square miles near their calves.
  3. As many as 40 hippos can inhabit one territory together. The group is called a bloat, herd, or pod.
  4. Yawning shows they are angry or upset. It is not a sign of sleepiness like in humans. Hippos yawn to display their huge tusks.
  5. Loud bellowing is another threat display. Hippo bellows can reach 115 decibels – about the loudness of a rock concert.
  6. Male hippos battle for dominance by a process called gaping. Two hippos open their mouths wide face to face to display their teeth and tusks.
  7. Mother hippos are very protective of their young. They have been known to kill lions, crocodiles, and hyenas that approached their calf.
  8. Young males are chased out of their natal herd between 7-8 years old. They join a bachelor pod with other young males.

Habits and Lifestyle

From their daily habits to what they eat, there’s much more to learn about the hippo lifestyle:

  1. Hippos can’t actually swim. They walk or bound off the bottom of riverbeds and lakes. But they can hold their breath underwater for 5 minutes.
  2. Their eyes, ears, and nostrils close underwater. A clear membrane covers their eyes for protection while diving.
  3. They spend up to 16 hours per day in water. The water helps keep their temperature cool under the hot African sun.
  4. At sunset, hippos leave the water to graze all night. They can travel 6 miles while grazing and eat up to 150 lbs of grass each night.
  5. Their skin secretes a red oily substance that acts as sunscreen. The “blood sweat” also keeps their skin moist and inhibits bacteria growth.
  6. Hippos live in groups of 10-30 animals. The groups are led by a dominant male. Bachelor groups of young males also form.
  7. Hippos vocalizations include grunts, bellows, and wheezes. Bull hippos make the loudest calls to attract females and warn off threats.
  8. They spend most daylight hours in or near water to stay cool. Herds will gather in shallow water pools and lakes to sleep, rest, and socialize for hours.
  9. Hippos give birth to a single calf every 2 years. The gestation period is 8 months, after which babies weigh 55-120 lbs.
  10. Calves can suckle on land or underwater. They nurse for 8 months and stay near their mother for protection for several more years afterward.
  11. Hippos live for 35-50 years on average. In the wild they live about 40 years while captivity can extend their lifespan to 50 years.

Diet and Eating Habits

You may be surprised to learn what these hefty herbivores eat:

  1. Hippos are herbivores. They do not eat any meat. Their diet consists mostly of grass and other land vegetation.
  2. Up to 150 pounds of grass is consumed per night of grazing. This massive amount keeps up with their huge appetite and nutritional needs.
  3. Fruits, leaves, and flowers are also occasional snack foods. Hippos have been observed eating watermelons given to them at zoos.
  4. Newborn calves don’t eat grass at first. For the first few months hippo calves only drink their mother’s milk.
  5. They regurgitate and re-chew their food after eating. This process gives their food more time to digest which provides more nutrients.
  6. Their stomachs and intestines don’t digest food very well. Up to half the food they eat gets passed without being fully broken down.
  7. Hungry hippos can go several days without eating by storing food in their stomach. The stomach can hold up to 2 days worth of undigested grazing.

Defense and Predators

Hippos have few natural predators that dare mess with them. But some brave predators will hunt vulnerable targets, and hippos have some notable defensive abilities:

  1. Hippos are preyed on mostly by lions, crocodiles, and hyenas. But attacks are rare due to the hippo’s size and aggressive defense tactics.
  2. Lions will prey on baby hippos who get separated from their pod. The lion pride can take down a solitary calf.
  3. Female hippos are fiercely protective mothers. They have been observed attacking lions and crocodiles that went after their calves.
  4. Male hippos sometimes fight off crocodiles and chase them into the water. Their huge size allows them to inflict serious damage on crocodiles.
  5. Hippos can crush objects with their strong jaws. An adult hippo’s bite force measures over 2,000 pounds per square inch.
  6. Their giant mouth and long canine teeth are used as weapons. Hippos have been known to bite crocodiles in half with their powerful jaws.
  7. They mark their territory with dung and urine. Hippos spin their small tail in a propeller motion to spread excrement far and wide.

Habitat and Range

Hippos have some specific environmental needs, and their habitats have been impacted by human activity:

  1. Hippos live in sub-Saharan Africa in freshwater rivers and lakes. They are found in over 15 African countries south of the Sahara.
  2. They require permanent water deep enough to submerge in during the day. Slow-moving freshwater rivers, lakes, and swamps work best.
  3. Grassy areas near the water’s edge are needed for nighttime grazing. Hippos may graze up to 6 miles away from the water at night.
  4. Most hippos in the wild live in protected national parks and reserves. Their numbers have declined outside protected areas due to poaching and habitat loss.
  5. Droughts can lower water levels and impact hippo populations. If water levels drop too low, hippos are forced to abandon their habitat and die off in large numbers.
  6. Deforestation near bodies of water can jeopardize hippo habitats. Runoff from agriculture accelerates the water pollution that disturbs hippo environments.
  7. It’s estimated between 125,000-150,000 hippos remain in the wild. Hippo populations decreased during the late 20th century but have since stabilized.
  8. They are classified as a vulnerable species but not yet endangered. Their decreasing numbers and loss of habitat still put their future at risk.

Benefits to the Ecosystem

hippo and ecosystem
An incredible work of art generated by AI, Midjourney

From spreading nutrients to creating habitats for other wildlife, hippos are a key species:

  1. Large dung piles fertilize vegetation in water. Hippo poop contains phosphorous and nitrogen that feed fish and other aquatic life.
  2. Their daily trails make channels that divert water. Hippo pathways change water flow in swamps and redirect entire streams and rivers.
  3. Stirred-up mud from walking aerates the water—aquatic plants and fish benefit from the increased oxygen circulation.
  4. Hippos keep watering holes from becoming choked with vegetation. Their huge bodies clear thick vegetation as they walk through the water.
  5. Grazing helps stimulate grass growth and prevent overgrowth. Their nightly eating habits keep grasslands maintained.
  6. Dung piles create food sources for dung beetles and larvae. Dung beetle species rely specifically on hippo dung.

So in summary, the hippopotamus is a unique semi-aquatic creature that is well-adapted to its African habitat. Their connection to the land and water makes them an essential part of the ecosystem. Though often seen as gentle giants, hippos can be extremely aggressive and dangerous. Always keep a safe distance from these massive animals when out in the African wilderness!

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