22 Interesting Facts About Hippos. Why you should love, respect ( and fear) them.

Hippos love to spend time in the water, and this is probably one of the reasons why the Greeks named them Hippopotamus - which loosely translates to "River Horse". 

From afar, hippos look like calm docile wild animals that you could walk up to and hug, but that is the farthest thing from the truth. Hippos are actually dangerous, and unlike many animals won't hesitate when it comes to a fight.

hippo near river bank

Hippos are not just dangerous, they are so much more than their temper, and learning about them will leave you divided where you stand as far as fearing them. You will definitely respect them.

We had a lot of fun learning about some of the interesting facts that we didn't already know, and we hope this article can be fascinating for you. And when you get to visit a place that has hippos in the wilderness, be sure to be on the lookout for some of the peculiar and interesting things you will already know about the hippopotamus.

We also hope that this encourages more conservation work for hippos, mostly in the areas where the numbers are falling.

Facts about the Hippopotamus 

1. What do hippos look like

grazing hippo in kruger np

You can recognize a hippo by the barrel-shaped torso, wide-opening mouths, column-like legs, and nearly hairless bodies. Hippos are large animals and you will be able to see them near freshwater bodies in sub-Saharan Africa.

2. How big are Hippos

Hippos are the 3rd largest land animal after the African Elephant and Rhinoceros. Hippos can measure up to 16 feet in length (head to tail) and as high as 5.4 feet on the shoulder.

3. How much does a hippo weigh

On average, an adult hippo will weigh between 1300 Kg and 1500 Kg. Males are bigger and heavier than female hippos.

Hippopotamus Weight in Kg Weight in Lb
  • Male 
1,500 - 1,800 kg 3,300 - 3,900 lb
  • Female 
1,300 - 1,500 kg 2,800 - 3,300 lb
  • Highest Recorded
4,500 kg 9,900 lb

4. How fast can a hippo run

A Hippopotamus is capable of running at a speed of 30 km/h over short distances. Don't let their large size and storky shape convince you that a hippo is a slow animal.

5. Can hippos swim

Shockingly, hippos cannot swim. With spending much day time in the water, many people expect them to be great at swimming but they don't swim.

Hippos are heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the lake or river and spend their whole day there.

herd of hippos in Murchison Falls Uganda

6. Do hippos breathe underwater?

Hippos cannot breathe underwater. A hippopotamus will take in a lot of air before sinking to the riverbed and hold its breath the entire time.

Hippos can hold their breath for more than 5 minutes at a time. When it needs to breathe in again, the hippo will rise to the surface and breathe in fresh oxygen - without even waking up.

7. Where do hippos live?

The natural habitat for hippos is Sub-Saharan Africa. Hippos live in areas with rivers, lakes, and mangrove swamps. This is because they need the water bodies for the daytime basking away from the sun.

Hippos used to be spread all over sub-Saharan African and along the Nile delta but their home range has since shrunk down significantly. Hippos can be found in the wild in the following African countries.

  • D.R Congo
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Zimbabwe 
  • The Gambia
  • Kenya
  • Botswana
  • Namibia
  • Ethiopia 
  • South Africa
  • Sudan
  • Mozambique 
  • Somalia
  • Zambia
  • South Sudan
  • Angola

8. What do hippos eat

Hippos are herbivores and graze on short grasses as their main source of food. They graze for about 5 hours every day and consume around 68 Kg of food.

Compared with other animals, hippos consume less food as a percentage of their body weight. A hippo's daily food intake is less than 5% of its body weight.

Newer research and observations indicate that hippos might eat meat from time to time - but this is still inconclusive. Many researchers still regard this as an anomaly rather than fact changing evidence.

Related article: What hippos eat in the wild & at the zoo

9. What is a group of hippos called?

hippos in water

A group of hippos can be referred to by various names such as Herd, Bloat, Dale, Pod, and School. 

Hippos usually live in groups of 20 to 30 animals. The largest pods can contain even more than 100 hippos but this is not common.

10. How do hippos mark territory?

When hippos are in the water, they become very territorial. When defecating, the dominant male of the herd (Dale) marks the territory by using his tail to scatter the droppings. Hippos can also use Yawning to communicate the extent of their territory as well as the power structure in a given herd.

Hippos are not territorial when they are on land.

11. How do hippos reproduce?

Adult hippos usually mate towards the end of the wet season of rain. A female hippo reaches sexual maturity after 4 years while a male takes around 7.5 years.

After a pregnancy of 8 months, female hippos give birth in water. The newly born young hippos stay in the water with their mother for up to 2 weeks.

The calves are born weighing between 25 and 50 kilograms and have to move to the land to take their first breaths.

12. How long do hippos live

A hippopotamus will live for an average of 40 to 50 years. Most of the threats to their lives happen when they are young, as well as coming from human activity.

For context, lions live for about 10 to 14 years.

13. Closest animal relative

The closest animal relatives to a hippopotamus are dolphins, whales, and porpoises - all of which are ocean dwellers. The latest scientific findings predict that hippos and whales split into 2 groups around 54 million years ago. 

While their body might trick you into thinking that hippos are related to other species of pigs, their closest relatives live in the sea.

14. Do Hippos sweat blood?

Hippos secrete some natural chemicals whose colour on their skin is slightly pink. This combination of natural acids is sometimes referred to as blood sweat.

The released chemicals in blood sweat act as 'sunscreen' for the hippo and protect its bare and sensitive skin from the hot tropical sun. Besides blocking harmful ultra-violet light from the sun, these two chemicals help to inhibit bacteria - and thus prevent infections and diseases.

15. Are hippos intelligent?

There isn't enough research-backed evidence saying that hippos are intelligent. Since hippos have a very volatile temperament and can change moods in a minute, it is hard to find many cases of them being compassionate to other animals.

Hippos' closest relatives are whales and dolphins - which are regarded to be quite intelligent among animals. While hippos might not be as intelligent, it is unlikely that they are very dull.

16. How do hippos sleep

Hippos usually sleep standing on their legs while submerged under the water. They are able to do this because of the automatic adaptation to rising above the water for breathing, which happens even when the hippo is fully asleep.

Much of a hippo's sleep will happen during the daytime when it is ideal to escape from the scalding tropical sun.

17. Meaning of a hippo's yawn

yawning hippo

A Hippo's yawn will often afford you a great look at the marvel that is its wide-opening mouth. The yawn of a hippo is actually a threat.

Whether it is a small-ish yawn or a big one that's worth a great photo, a hippo's yawn is not friendly. You should treat the 'laugh' as equally threatening. Hippos are very unpredictable and no chances should be taken.

18. Are Hippos dangerous

hippo vs lion

Hippos are very dangerous to both humans and other animals. It is estimated that about 500 people die every year from attacks and related accidents by hippos. This is mostly local fishermen whose small wooden boats get capsized by hippos. Poachers also suffer the bad fate of hippos.

The attacks on tourists are very few because the guides are better trained on safety.

As far as other animals are concerned, a hippo doesn't have much competition because of its strength. An adult hippo can very easily kill a lion with one bite into the lion or crocodile. 

We have a standalone article about why hippos are dangerous. It even explores how they would match up against other animals. Check it out if you want to dig deeper into the dangerous side of hippos.

19. How hard do hippos bite

A hippopotamus has a bite force of around 2,000 PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch).

For Context, a human's bite force is around 126 PSI. The bite force of a Jaguar is around 1,500 PSI while that of a lion is about 650 PSI.

This strong bite force and a mouth that opens so wide is why a hippo can handle its battles with many animals in the wild.

20. Do Hippos have ivory?

hippo skull with sharp teeth

The hippopotamus has slight amounts of ivory in their sharp and protruding incisor teeth. The amount of ivory is significantly less than what would be found in the task of an elephant.

Bans and restrictions on trade in elephant tusks have led to an increase in the poaching of hippos by people who are targeting ivory in their sharp incisors.

21. What hreatens hippos?

Hippos face very few threats from other animals in the wilderness. Most of the threats from other animals are directed towards the younger hippos by Nile crocodiles and other predators. It would take a big pride of lions to put down one adult hippo - and the fight wouldn't be an easy one.

The biggest threat to hippos is humans. Whether this is from direct activities like poaching or reduction of their natural habitat, humans remain the biggest threat to hippos and their natural ecosystem.

22. Conservation status

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN), hippos are regarded as vulnerable species. Here is the IUCN Redlist for hippos.

While the global population figure indicates stability, some individual places [and countries] have decreasing trends in their numbers while others are stable or increasing slightly. The biggest threat for hippos comes from human activity that encroaches on their natural habitat, among other things.

Final Thoughts

Given that a hippos closest relatives are not land animals, you wonder how it come to be best suited for the inland rivers in the Savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa.

Whether it is their mouths, their social life or their temper, hippos are very interesting animals. While they are not famous as lions, hippos do get a great deal of respect in the bush.

Reading about hippos is exciting, watching them with your own eyes will add more life to these interesting facts we have shared with you. 

Having the facts, and interests enhances your safari experience. You have some things to try and observe or look out for.

What do you think? Is seeing a hippo in the wild now on your bucket list?

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