The Hippopotamus

How fast can a hippo swim? Can Hippos drown? Are Hippos dangerous? What do Hippos eat?

Hippopotamus is a Greek word meaning “river horse.”

Hippos are semi-aquatic, meaning they live in the water, but not all the time. They are found most often in slow-moving rivers and lakes in the Sahara Desert in Africa. They live in groups with a dominate bull and 5-30 cows and calves.

In spite of its body weight and composition compared to other aquatic mammals, a hippo lives and survives most of its life in the water, spending up to 16 hours a day in the water. Technically, they are not accomplished swimmers nor can they float. They walk or gallop always maintaining some kind of contact with the bottom or side of the river bed, propelling themselves locomotion-style—at almost five miles per hour—through the water, holding their breath for up to five minutes.

Hippos weigh 3,000-9,000 pounds and are 9.5-14 feet long, making them the third-largest land animal behind the elephant and rhinoceros. Male hippos grow throughout their lives, while females reach their maximum weight at around the age of 25.

Their skeletal structure is graviportal, adapted to carrying great weight. Their dense bones and low center of gravity allow them to sink and move along the bottom of the water. They usually trot on dry land, but if you think you could outrun such a big beast, be warned—hippos can gallop up to 20 mph. For reference, the fastest human, Usain Bolt, can run 23.4 mph.

Hippos’ eyes, ears, and nostrils are placed high at the top of their skulls so that they will be above water while the hippo rests submerged. Being nocturnal creatures, hippos spend the day in the water, but venture on land at sunset to eat leaves and grass, their favorite food—adults can eat up to 150 pounds of it per day. Notwithstanding the fact that their diet is primarily vegetarian, hippos will, on occasion, eat meat, and, therefore, are considered to be omnivores.

Hippos’ skin is about two inches thick and demands moisture. They cannot survive long on land because their bodies begin to dehydrate. They do not have sweat glands, but do have special glands in their skin which secrete a reddish, oily fluid, sometimes called “blood sweat.” This substance, however, is neither blood nor sweat. It is a secretion containing acids that inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria, as well as providing a sunscreen effect.

Hippos live an average of 40-50 years in the wild, but there have been hippos in zoos or wildlife sanctuaries that have exceeded 50 years. Because of their pig or cow-like appearance and peaceful meandering in the water, as observed in exhibits in countless zoos around the world, it is hard to believe that they have a violent and aggressive character. But they can be quite ferocious, which earns them the label of predator. They have powerful jaws with tusks and very big teeth that are capable of snapping a canoe in half. Thus they are classified as one of the most deadly creatures on the planet.

Bull hippos are territorial and mark both their water and land territory with their feces. Even though hippos spend their days in the water sleeping and quietly resting from the heat, don’t let their yawning fool you. A yawning hippo is feeling threatened, and the yawn is meant to warn other animals they are getting too close to its territory, and gives the unsuspecting animal a good, up-close look at those huge tusks and teeth.

Hippos actually sleep underwater. Due to their reflexes, they surface every 20-30 minutes, inhaling fresh air before submerging again, all without ever waking up.

Since hippos are so ferocious and deadly, who are they afraid of? Despite the thickness of their skin, a hippo can be killed with a gun, making man a dangerous predator. But in the wild, young hippos and calves are the easy, natural prey of crocodiles, lions, and hyenas.

Sources:;;;;;;timesmojo/can-hippo-breathe-under-water; Wikipedia/hippopotamus;