Interesting Facts About Hippopotamus

Facts About Hippopotamus – The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) is a semi-aquatic mammal indigenous to Africa. Within the family Hippopotamidae, there are only two species: the common or river hippo and the pygmy hippo. The river hippo, larger of the two, primarily inhabits sub-Saharan Africa.

The pygmy hippo, native to West Africa, is a solitary and nocturnal creature. It thrives in forested regions and sustains itself on an herbivorous diet consisting of grasses and leaves.

Both species heavily rely on muddy waters and rivers for cooling and rejuvenation, spending significant periods submerged. Despite their seemingly rough and rugged exterior, their skin is actually highly sensitive to the intense sun, necessitating frequent hydration.

While common hippos typically form large groups led by dominant males, pygmy hippos tend to either prefer solitary living or gather in much smaller clusters.

Fascinating Facts About Hippos


They Can’t Swim

Despite being commonly referred to as “river horses” by the Greeks, hippos are unable to swim or float. Instead, they spend prolonged periods in water bodies, often with only their eyes visible, but they typically remain in shallow waters. They seek out sandy river bottoms and banks where they can stand comfortably.

Their foraging habits predominantly occur at night, given their nocturnal nature. However, when faced with the scorching sun of midday, hippos must find ways to shield themselves from the heat. They utilize mud and water as a protective barrier, which helps to soothe their skin and regulate their body temperature.

Calves Can Suckle Underwater

Hippos are herbivores, but during their first year of life, hippo calves exclusively nurse on their mothers’ milk. After birth, these calves remain in close proximity to their mothers, relying on them for nourishment until they can fend for themselves in the wild. It’s not uncommon to see young hippos riding on their mothers’ backs from time to time.

Remarkably, the hippo’s anatomy has evolved to facilitate nursing both on land and underwater. Their eyes and nostrils can seal shut to prevent water from entering while they feed, allowing them to maintain this position for extended periods.

Despite rumors circulated on the internet, hippo milk is not pink. Similar to the milk of most other mammals, it has a whitish-yellow coloration.

Hippos Are One of the Largest Animals on the Planet

Interesting Facts About Hippopotamus

Alongside the elephant and rhinoceros, the common hippopotamus ranks among the largest animals on Earth. A typical, fully grown male can weigh up to a staggering 7,000 pounds, roughly equivalent to the weight of a UPS truck! Females generally weigh around 3,000 pounds. In contrast, a full-grown pygmy hippo reaches only about 600 pounds. At birth, baby hippos start at around 60 pounds, but they rapidly gain weight. In less than 3.5 years, a hippo is considered mature.

They Can Hold Their Breath for Up to Five Minutes

While hippos may not excel in swimming, they compensate with their remarkable ability to hold their breath for extended periods. They achieve this by closing their nostrils and covering their eyes with a thick membrane, forming a protective water-tight seal. Hippos employ this defense mechanism when they detect danger or feel threatened in their environment. They may either relocate to a different area or remain motionless until they perceive it safe to resurface. Interestingly, hippos can even sleep underwater utilizing this innate reflexive instinct.

Hippos Are Very Vocal Creatures

Hippos are incredibly vocal creatures, utilizing a diverse array of noises to communicate within their groups. These sounds range from honks and growls to whines and squeaks, with some even resembling human laughter.

Their calls can carry over long distances, with reports of them being heard up to a mile away on land. Remarkably, hippos have also been observed vocalizing underwater. While the precise meanings behind each call remain somewhat mysterious, they likely serve various purposes such as alerting others to danger, signaling movement or stillness, or calling out to their young. In essence, these vocalizations function as a means for hippos to convey messages within their social circles.

Pygmy Populations Are Decreasing

The pygmy hippo, according to the IUCN Red List, is classified as endangered. The latest assessment in 2015 revealed declining populations in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote D’Ivoire, likely attributed to human intrusions and disturbances. With less than 3,000 individuals estimated to remain, the species faces a precarious situation.

Pygmy hippos typically inhabit swampy forests, making habitat destruction and poaching significant contributors to their declining numbers. In contrast, common hippo populations are currently stable, although they hold a vulnerable status on the IUCN list.

They Get Sunburnt

Hippos spend extensive periods in the water and away from land primarily due to their sensitive skin. Interestingly, they have evolved a unique adaptation to create their own form of sunscreen. Instead of traditional sweat glands, they secrete a pinkish oily substance from pores in their skin that covers their entire body. This secretion acts as a natural barrier, protecting them from sun damage and reducing the risk of infection.

Female Hippos Are Pregnant for 8 Months

Similar to humans, female hippos undergo a relatively long gestation period. River hippos carry their young for approximately 237 days, roughly equivalent to 8 months. To put this into perspective, the longest gestation period among mammals belongs to elephants, lasting over 600 days, while sperm whales come in second at nearly 500 days.

Hippos typically give birth to a single calf at a time. The calf remains close to its mother for nearly a year, nursing on her milk to grow and gain strength. After this period, it gradually transitions to feeding on vegetation.

Hippos Mate in the Water

Hippos Mate in the Water

Hippos engage in mating rituals approximately every two years, with much of the courtship occurring in the water. Both males and females utilize vocalizations, body language, and even their own urine and feces to express interest or disinterest in potential mates. Males often travel, compete, and engage in physical confrontations with other males to secure their preferred mate. Consequently, successful mating typically occurs among dominant and powerful hippos within the group.

Hippos Are Polygamous

Hippos are not inclined to mate for life, and a male may have up to 10 mates over the course of its lifetime. Given that dominance typically lies with the male or bull hippo within the group, younger males face significant challenges in securing a female for breeding. During a mating season, a male often mates with multiple females to ensure the production of offspring. After the calves are born, they remain together within the male’s territory, where he can provide protection and shelter from competing males and predators.

Male Hippos Fling Their Dung to Mark Their Territory

Hippos are often regarded as dangerous and unpredictable creatures, largely due to their instinctual need to defend their territory. While females exhibit fierce protection of their young, it’s the males who are particularly aggressive and threatening. They will aggressively confront any hippo, including members of their own family, as well as other animals or humans who encroach upon their personal space.

On land, hippos may employ various intimidating tactics to assert their territory. This can include using their tails to fling feces around the area, signaling to others the boundaries of their domain. Additionally, wide-open mouths, loud vocalizations, or charging behavior are common displays used by hippos to signal their readiness to defend their land.

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