Hippopotamus (animal) - Information, feeding, and characteristics

Hippopotamus (animal) - Information, feeding, and characteristics
Posted on 09-02-2022


We explain everything about hippos, what they eat, where they live, and other characteristics. Also, how dangerous are they?


Hippos arose 23 million years ago.

What are hippos?

Hippopotamuses are a family of large, heavy, amphibious mammals, of which only two species survive today: the common hippopotamus ( Hippopotamus amphibius ) and the pygmy hippopotamus ( Choeropsis liberiensis ).

Its name comes from the Greek hippos (“horse”) and potamós (“river”), since the ancient Greeks considered it, precisely, a “river horse”. For their part, the ancient Egyptians called them "river pigs" and the Arabs "water buffalo".

Evolutionarily related to cetaceans ( whales ), hippopotamuses arose sometime in the Miocene, about 23 million years ago, and proliferated throughout Eurasia, in numerous species of which fossil remains are abundant.

Their population has continuously decreased over time, to the point that in ancient times they were abundant in the Iberian Peninsula, Palestine, and Lower Egypt, while today they have a much more restricted habitat.

Hippopotamuses are aggressive and territorial animals, foreign to domestication, but at the same time, they are a common presence in the world's zoos. Its contact with the human being is not very close, and in the imaginary of many cultures it was associated with motherhood and family; for example, in ancient Egyptian culture, it was considered the sacred animal of Taweret, goddess of female fertility.


Characteristics of hippos


Hippos can spend up to 5 minutes underwater holding their breath.

Hippos are characterized by the following:

  • They are bulky, quadrupedal animals, with a stocky, barrel-shaped body and a large head with a wide mouth and thick snout. They have smooth, hairless skin that lacks sebaceous glands so that they dehydrate easily outside the water.
  • An adult common hippopotamus can measure up to 3.5 meters in length and weigh between 1.4 and 3.2 tons, and commonly spends 16 hours a day submerged in rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water, as its eyes and nostrils are located on the top of the head they allow it. Then they go out to graze on dry land after sunset.
  • They are excellent swimmers, able to spend up to 5 minutes underwater holding their breath, and can also run short distances at speeds approaching 30 kmph.
  • Their sweaty secretions and breast milk are reddish in color, due to the presence of certain natural pigments, which has given rise to the myth that hippos "sweat blood".
  • When yawning, a warning signal to potential rivals, its jaw can open up to 150°, exposing its large, thick teeth. Their incisors and canines grow throughout life, while their molars are well suited to grinding up dietary plant fiber.
  • They are very aggressive and territorial animals, which are grouped in herds of between 20 and 100 individuals, within which the confrontations of the males are common and violent. The species communicates by smell and through growls, hisses, and snorts.

Where do hippos live?

Hippopotamuses live in rivers, lakes, lagoons, and bodies of freshwater that allow them to be submerged all day. In this way, they protect themselves from the drying action of the sun, and also by covering themselves with a layer of mud that blocks solar radiation. Regarding their geographical distribution, almost all of them are found in sub - Saharan Africa, in the eastern, central, and southern regions.

What do hippos eat?

Hippopotamuses are herbivores but fall short of being true ruminants. They eat short grasses, plants, and fruits, being able to ingest up to 35 kg of vegetable matter per day. In adverse situations or in the face of a specific lack of nutrients, it is possible that they consume animal organic matter, be it some type of fish or some carrion. But those attitudes are rather strange.

How do hippos reproduce?


Hippos nurse their young with pigmented, reddish-colored milk.

Like all mammals, hippopotamuses reproduce sexually and viviparously, with a gestational period of 8 months, having a calf every two years. Fights between males for the right to the female are common and violent.

For its part, birth occurs in or out of the water, depending on the species, and the young are suckled with pigmented milk, reddish in color. One in every 200 hippo births brings twins to the world.

How long do hippos live?

The life expectancy of a hippopotamus is around 40 to 50 years.

How dangerous are hippos?

Hippos are very aggressive animals, considered among the most dangerous in Africa. In fact, they tend to cause more fatal accidents per year than other local species, including predators.

They are not shy about defending their territory, and they are not exactly friendly neighbors to other species, especially when they are in the water or when it comes to females with young. Thus, they are capable of capsizing small boats, attacking land vehicles, or unsuspecting swimmers.


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