The hungry hippo is quite a popular African animal. On any safari, people would flock toward the watering hole for a glimpse of these slow-moving beasts. But, there are a ton of things that we do not know about these creatures. Keep reading to learn 43 interesting facts about hippos.
43 Interesting Facts about Hippos
Observing them during the day doesn’t reveal any of their secrets since they’re in the water for most of the day. Keep scrolling to find something you probably didn’t know about the hippopotamus.
1. Hippos are Native to Sub-Saharan Africa
Hippos used to be found all over Africa. There are five subspecies of hippo. They are each named according to their geographical location. Lately, you’ll find them in South Africa, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Angola.
2. Hippos are Semi-Aquatic Animals
Hippos are usually seen in the water, as that’s where they love to spend their days. So, it is easy to mistake them for mostly water animals. But, they do prefer being on land as well.
3. Ancient Greek Inspired Their Latin Name
The Latin name of hippopotamus actually comes from the Greek word ἱπποπόταμος, which means the horse of the river. They are thus considered river horses, and the correct English plural is hippopotamuses.
4. There are Two Genera of Hippo
Hippos belong to the Hippopotamidae family. There are two species within this family which we know as the common hippo or the pygmy hippo.
5. Hippos are the Third Largest Mammal
After Elephants and Rhinos, the hippopotamus is the third-largest mammal on Earth. They are, however, the largest artiodactyl (even-toed ungulates). Hippos are just one of approximately 270 various species of land-living, even-toed angulates.
6. Hippos are the Deadliest Large Land Mammal
While there is no real hard evidence to prove this, many scientists speculate that hippos are the deadliest large land mammal alive. They’re responsible for around 500 human deaths per year. When the males sense danger, they’ll become aggressive.
7. Hippos are Supremely Friendly
These gentle giants are known for killing humans (who get in their space) but are best known for their gentle nature. They tend to steer clear of other animals and will live in harmony with different herbivores in their environment.
8. Male Hippos are Territorial
Most male hippos are territorial when they’re in the water. On land, they’re basically defending their pod, but in water, they’re also defending their territory. They can become aggressive when they sense any need for it.
9. Male Hippos Show Dominance
Male hippos will also have to assert their dominance. They usually do this by opening their mouths as wide as they can while floating in the water. Their huge tongues and teeth should scare other animals off.
10. Hippos Live in a Pod
Hippos are social animals and will live in a pod with one dominant male. Their pods can have anywhere from 10 to 200 hippos at one time. This will depend on space, resources, and the number of other males fighting for dominant status.
11. Hippos Have 36 Teeth
Their large mouths can hold up to 36 teeth. While you may expect them to use it for chewing, it is their main weapon against predators and threatening humans.
12. Hippos are Quite Noisy
Hippos tend to make a lot of strange sounds. Out of the water, they will honk. These honks average at around 115 decibels, which can be heard from a mile away.
13. Hippo Sounds are Largely Misunderstood
A hippo can honk on land, but 80% of their communication happens underwater. Many of these sounds are a mystery to humans. There is no clear guide as to what their sounds may mean.
14. Hippos Don’t Eat Much
These herbivores are best known for eating grass. Other than that, they don’t eat much else. Although, they have been caught eating other animals as well. It is speculated that their diet doesn’t offer them many vitamins, and they’ll defy their deficiencies by eating meat.
15. Hippos are also Documented as Cannibals
Thanks to food scarcity and vitamin deficiencies, hippos will also eat other hippos. In 2014, the first case of hippopotamus cannibalism was documented in the Kruger National Park.
16. Hippos are Herbivores
Despite the cannibalism and occasional meat treat, hippos are still classified as herbivores. Their largely vegetarian diet is made up of grass, fruits, and anything else they can find within the vicinity.
17. Hippos are Usually Active at Night
Hippos are considered nocturnal animals as they spend most of their nights out of the water, wandering about. They are awake during the day but will usually be caught sleeping silently in the water, where they can cool off from the hot sun.
18. Hippos Usually Graze at Night
Hippos are most commonly found grazing at night. They can travel around six miles per night looking for the best grub. They prefer to forage at night since it becomes a lot cooler for them, and the grasslands are slightly less active than in the daytime.
19. Hippos Have a Thick Skin
Hippo skin is considered mostly bulletproof. Their thick skin is around two inches thick and has a leathery feel to it. It is one of the rarest leather types out there. It is also known for its exotic grain pattern.
20. Hippos are Considered Vulnerable
According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), hippos are classified as vulnerable. Thanks to their teeth of ivory, and the effect of humans on their environment, these creatures have been on the decline since 2017.
21. Hippos Have Sensitive Skin
Despite being two inches thick, hippos have extremely sensitive skin. They’re rather prone to sunburn, even while they’re in the water. Their underbellies are also extremely delicate, so they tend to hide in shallow waters.
22. Hippos Secrete Their Own Sunblock
Since they’re particularly vulnerable to the effects of UV rays, they secrete their own oily substance all over their bodies. This acts as a moisturizer and as a sunblock.
23. Hippos Don’t Sweat Blood
Contrary to what many people may think, their pinkish-red color is not due to their sweat being made of blood. Instead, the sunblock-like oil that they secret is red in color and often makes them look like they’re bleeding all the time.
24. Hippos Don’t Have Sweat Glands
Funnily enough, hippos don’t even have sweat glands. In most mammals, sweat glands help us regulate our body temperature. Their natural oils only help them to repel water and act as a sun blocker and antibiotic. But, hippos regulate their body temperature by bobbing in and out of water.
25. Hippos Can’t Swim
For an animal that relies on water to survive, it’s quite shocking that these creatures cannot swim. Their bodies are not really designed for swimming, so instead, they’ll gallop under the water. This is why they prefer shallow waters.
26. Hippos Can’t Breathe Underwater
When submerged in water, a hippo’s nostrils will close immediately, which means that it cannot breathe underwater. They’ll hold their breath and come back up for air when needed.
27. Hippos Can Sleep Underwater
Since they’re spending most of their sleep time in the water, their bodies have evolved to allow them to sleep while they’re underwater. They simply float back up for air and continue their slumber.
28. Hippos Can Hold Their Breath
No conclusive research suggests exactly how long a hippo can hold its breath, as some resources suggest that a hippo can hold its breath for up to 30 minutes. Other resources say a hippo can hold its breath for around three to five minutes.
29. Hippos are Bouyant
You may be wondering how a hippo sleeps underwater without breathing. They’ve developed a special reflex that bobs them up and down every few minutes so that they can breathe. This allows them to sleep without waking up.
30. Hippos’ Closest Living Relative is Cetaceans
Cetaceans are an infra-order of sea mammals, namely, consisting of dolphins, porpoises, and whales. Hippos and Cetaceans share a common ancestor from around 55 million years ago. This can explain why they’re so dependent on water for survival.
31. Hippos are Faster Than the Average Human
A hippo can easily outrun and outswim the average human. When you’re caught between a rock and a hippo, be sure to find height in order to survive the thumping beast. Climbing up a tree or a very tall rock will keep you safe.
32. Hippos Run Faster Than Bolt
Despite their chonky build, hippos are extremely fast. They can reach speeds upwards of 29mph (48km/ph) on land, which is faster than Usain Bolt at around 27mph (44km/ph).
33. Hippos Play in Water to Attract a Mate
When the time is right, male hippos will “play” in the water, splashing about and making a mess in order to impress the reproductively ready female. They are also exceptionally smelly in that they’ll also spray their scent everywhere through urination and defecation.
34. Females Wait Seven Years
Most female hippos are ready to mate and reproduce from around two years of age. Although, they’ll typically wait until they’re seven or eight years old before digging their head in the dirt.
35. They’re the Ony Land Animal to Mate in Water
Hippos are considered the only land animals that will mate in water. The male will throw the female’s head down into the water while he mounts and inseminates her.
36. Hippos Give Birth Every Two Years
Most female hippos will give birth to one calf once every two years. They gestate for around eight months (243 days). After that, the mother will spend time with her calf in order to bond.
37. Mothers Usually Separate Themselves From the Pod
Once the mother has had the calf, she will separate herself and her kid from the pod in an attempt to bond with her offspring. This is quite common among mammals as bonding is rather important. In most cases, the pair will return to the pod after a few months.
38. Male Hippos Will Kill Their Offspring
In some instances, male hippos will commit infanticide in order to ready the mother to mate again. Since mother and child spend so much time together, the female is only ready once every two years. The male will kill the calf so that the female can ready herself for him.
39. Mothers Carry Infants in Their Mouths
As with most mammals, mothers tend to carry their calves in their mouths for protection. The calf usually enjoys this as they will also feel a lot safer there. In most cases, this is just until the calf learns how to fend for itself.
40. Hippos Don’t Produce Pink Milk
Most hippos will produce regular white-colored milk to feed their calves. In some cases, the milk may appear pink as it mixes with the reddish oil substance secreted by their skin. Unfortunately, contrary to sensationalist tweets, hippos have regular old white milk, just like the rest of us.
41. Hippos Can Live for Around 40 Years
Hippos tend to live for quite a long time. There have been records of hippos living for up to 40 years in captivity and 50 years in the wild. The oldest report is of a 65-year-old hippo named Bertha, that lived in Manila Zoo and died in 2017.
42. Hippos Use Middens
Middens is to the animal kingdom version of what a toilet is to humans. Hippos tend to allocate one space for all of their business. This is one midden for the pod, and some suggest that it could help the pod with direction and even communication.
43. Hippos are an Integral Part of the Ecosystem
As with any great creature, hippos are a vital part of the ecosystem. Their giant dung offers water, nutrients, and things like silicon to the surrounding areas. Fish, insects, and other inhabitants of a stream or lake require these gentle giants to wade through water and clear paths for the smaller critters.