Hippopotamus facts and information

Hippopotamus Facts

The hippo is the third largest land mammal after the white rhino and the elephant and weighs up to half a ton. They can live to be 45 years old and most hippos live in protected areas. Find our more about the hippopotamus with the facts below.

  • Hippos used to live south of the Sahara Desert in Africa. Most hippos are now confined to protected areas. A hippo can live to be 45 years old.
  • The name hippopotamus comes from the Greek word “hippos,” meaning horse. The hippo was once called “river horse”, because they spend much of their time in rivers, swamps and ponds. However, the hippo is more closely related to the pig than the horse.
  • During daylight hours, hippos spend most of their time in water, socializing and digesting the previous night’s food. During cooler months, they like to lie up on the riverbank in the sun. An adult hippo can stay under water for up to 5 minutes.
  • The hippo is the third largest land mammal after the white rhino and the elephant. The hippo has a bulky, plump body with short, stumpy legs. Each foot has four toes which are webbed.
  • The hippo has very thick skin called a hide. The hide can weigh ½ ton. The hide is a brownish-gray in color and is almost completely without hair. The only hair on the hippo can be found around the mouth and the tip of the tail. Because the hippo does not have sweat glands, it relies on water and mud to keep it cool.
  • The hippo has special glands that secrete red fluid. This fluid has created the myth that hippos sweat blood. This fluid may also help the hippo keep cool.
  • The hippo eats mainly grass and drinks up to 56 gallons of water in one day. The hippo will graze at night for 4 to 5 hours.
  • A full-grown male hippo can weigh up to 3 tons. The females can weigh 1 ½ tons. A calf can weigh from 50 to 120 pounds. The largest hippo can be 13 feet long and 5 feet tall.
  • The call of the hippo is loud and almost sounds like a laugh with a wheezing honk. When one hippo calls all the others respond. The calling occurs most frequently in the early morning as the hippos re-enter the water and at sunset before leaving the water.
  • A hippo can run short distances of speeds up to 30 miles per hour.
  • Male hippos are called a bull. The female hippo is called a cow and the baby is called a calf. Cows stay by themselves before giving birth. They birth on land, in weeded areas close to water, or sometimes in the water. They stay alone with the tiny baby for a week or so to bond with the calf. After this time, the mother will bring her calf back to the group.
  • Hippo calves nurse under water, automatically resurfacing to breathe. They begin by staying under water for 35 seconds; this increases up to 2 minutes by two months of age. They start to nibble at grass by about five months and stop nursing by 22 months of age. While mothers go off to graze in the evening, they leave their calf in the protection of a couple of cows. Hippos can be found in mixed groups of about 15 individuals.
  • Hippos can move easily in the water despite their size and bulk. They are good swimmers and will also walk on the bottom of the river. They have small eyes and ears that are found on the top of their heads. This allows the hippo to almost completely submerge itself except for its eyes and ears, keeping them alert to any threat.
  • The hippo can be an aggressive animal. Scars and fresh wounds are signs of daily fights. When the hippo shows a large open-mouth yawn that reveals its long razor-sharp teeth, it lets its opponent know it’s armed and dangerous. The hippo also has tusk-like canine teeth. If they are approached away from water, they can charge, bite and trample what they consider a threat. The hippo will also scoop water with tightened or staring eyes. They will also snort and shake their heads when being aggressive.
  • The natural predator of the hippo is the lion and the crocodile.
  • People also threaten the hippo for their meat, hide and ivory teeth.
  • The hippo’s habitat is slowly shrinking in many parts of Africa due to ever increasing human population. If threatened by a predator the hippo can also be seen diving and swimming away under water.