27 Fantastic Facts About Hippos That Will Pep you Up!

27 Fantastic Facts About Hippos

Hippos are undoubtedly some of the most imposing and awe-inspiring members of the animal kingdom. These mighty mammals have inspired fascination and fear in humans since the early Ancient Egyptians when they roamed freely around the Nile Delta. Having evolved over millions of years, and adapted perfectly to their unique semiaquatic lifestyle and environments, today’s modern hippos are a true feat of nature. Here are 27 fantastic facts about hippos!

27 Amazing Hippo Facts

27 Amazing Hippo Facts
  1. The hippopotamus is a species of semiaquatic land mammal. They belong to the even-toed ungulate Hippopotamidae family, which contains just two subspecies; the Hippopotamus amphibius (common hippopotamus), and the Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis, (pygmy hippopotamus). 
  2. Classed as ‘megafauna’ because of their colossal size, hippos are the third-largest land mammals in the world, after the elephant and the rhinoceros. Adult bull hippos can weigh anything between one and four tonnes, that’s more than the average car! Bulls will continue growing for their entire life, whilst females tend to stop growing around the age of 25. 
  3. The name Hippopotamus is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘river horse’. 
  4. Despite having legs and living partly on land, the closest living relatives of hippos are, in fact, cetaceans, an order of aquatic mammals which includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Hippos split from this group around 55-60 million years ago, during the Eocene epoch, when there would have been several similar hippopotamus-like species. During the Pliocene, around five million years ago, however, all of these other hippo-like species became extinct, leaving only one surviving ancestor species to the hippos we know today. Early hippos would have roamed Eurasia as well as Africa until they became extinct everywhere but Africa around 20-50 thousand years ago.
  5. The typical lifespan of a hippo in the wild is around 40 – 50 years. 
  6. In the wild, today’s population of common hippos is spread throughout the rivers, lakes, and swamps of sub-Saharan Africa, in countries like Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Congo, and South Africa. Because they are semiaquatic, they need water to survive, so must live in and around large bodies of water with plenty of surrounding grasslands for them to graze on. 
  7. Hippos are largely nocturnal and spend around 16 hours a day resting in the water, usually only emerging at night when the hot sun sets to feed on grasses and plants. They must stay submerged during the day to protect their sensitive skin from the sun’s blistering rays. 
  8. Despite their hefty weight and rather cumbersome rotund tummies, hippos can reach a top speed of 30 kilometres per hour on land. That’s around triple the speed that the average human can sprint!
  9. A group of Hippos is called a ‘bloat’. Hippos usually live in groups of around ten to twenty individuals, but they have been known to love in groups as big as 200! Each bloat is led by a single dominant bull. 
  10. Despite being semiaquatic, and sharing a common ancestor with whales and dolphins, hippopotami are not good swimmers, nor can they float! Their substantial body weight and dense bones mean that they sink easily to the riverbed, where they move through the water by using their webbed feet to push off the bottom and travel along in a gliding motion.
  11. Hippo’s ears, eyes, and nostrils are positioned on top of their heads, meaning they can still breathe whilst remaining almost fully submerged underwater. They rarely venture into deep water as they cannot breathe underwater, and if they do become submerged, they will usually need to resurface every three to five minutes to take a breath. 
  12. Hippos can seal their nose and ears completely whilst underwater to stop water from getting into them. facts about hippos
  13. Despite their hides being around two inches thick, hippos have very sensitive skin that is easily burned by the scorching sun. To help protect against this, they produce their own sunscreen! Hippo skin secretes a red-coloured substance that looks rather alarmingly as though they are sweating blood. These secretions help to regulate the hippo’s temperature, prevent them from becoming dehydrated, and protect their skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. These secretions also possess potent antibiotic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and insect repellant qualities which scientists and researchers are still trying to fully understand. 
  14. During the ’80s and ’90s, the notorious Latin American drug lord Pablo Escobar kept hippopotami as pets on his estate in Colombia. After his death, the hippos were left to roam freely, and their population soon expanded from just four in the 1990s to well over 150 in the late naughties. They are considered an invasive species in Colombia since they have no natural position in the local ecosystem, and their grazing habits can cause harm to existing flora and fauna. Researchers predict that the population of invasive hippos in Colombia could reach well over 1000 in the coming decade. 
  15. Hippos are the deadliest land mammal on Earth, and the second deadliest creature in Africa, second only to mosquitos. They are known to be highly aggressive, territorial, and unpredictable. On average, hippos are responsible for around 500 human deaths per year on the continent, either from aggressive attacks, capsizing small boats, or crush injuries. 
  16. Despite their enormous teeth, hippos are herbivores! More precisely, they are ‘megaherbivores’ and they can consume around 80 pounds of grass in a single night! They can store two days’ worth of grass in their bellies, but can last for up to three weeks without any food at all! Very occasionally, in times of severe drought and when food is incredibly scarce, hippos have been recorded as engaging in cannibalism to survive.hippo fact
  17. The tusk-like canine teeth of hippos never stop growing! These teeth can reach up to half a meter in length. Hippos continuously sharpen their teeth by grinding them together. These ferocious looking teeth are not necessary for the herbivorous diets of hippos, and are used mainly for fighting with other hippos. 
  18. Hippo tusks have long provided a highly sought-after alternative to elephant ivory. Hippo ivory is stronger and more durable than elephant ivory, so it is more difficult to carve, but it was commonly used to make dentures during the 18th century! False teeth made from hippo ivory stained easily, were difficult to clean and often developed a bad smell over time. 
  19. Hippos have a bite force of 2000 pounds per square inch! That’s one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom! 
  20. Hippos are the only mammals that can make amphibious calls, meaning they can communicate with one another whilst underwater. On land, hippo calls can travel for several kilometres. 
  21. Hippos often open their mouths in a wide ‘yawn’, not because they are tired, but to display aggression towards potential predators, rival hippos, or threats to their habitat. Bull hippos can open their enormous jaws to a staggering 150 degrees, that’s around four feet wide! 
  22. In their natural habitats of the swamps and rivers of Africa, hippos have great ecological importance. This is mainly because of their dung! When the hippos leave the water to graze, they bring all of those nutrients back into the water with them. This nutrient-rich dung provides food for fishes and other aquatic life. On land, their dung acts as a natural fertiliser for the local fauna, as they have a habit of flinging it around with their tails! Well trodden hippo paths also create highways for other creatures to travel along, which fill with water during the rainy season, creating lagoons where other animals can eat, drink, and live. hippos fact
  23. Hippos also act as living islands in the water. Smaller animals such as birds often like to perch on the backs and heads of hippos as they travel along the river, but even turtles and baby crocodiles have been known to hitch rides on hippos’ backs! 
  24. Hippos can sleep underwater, unconsciously bobbing up to the surface every few minutes to take a breath without even waking! 
  25. Pygmy hippos are much smaller than the gargantuan common hippo, and weigh less than a quarter of their larger cousins. They inhabit much the same kind of environment as common hippos and follow a largely similar nocturnal routine.
  26. In Ancient Egypt, hippos were often hunted for their meat and ivory. Early Predynastic artwork from Ancient Egypt depicts hippopotamus hunts as early as 4000 BCE. Slaughtering an animal of this size signified courage, strength, and power over nature. Today, hippos are extinct in Egypt. 
  27. Aside from being hunted, hippos held great spiritual importance in Ancient Egyptian mythology. They were both highly respected and greatly feared as they were though to possess both blessed and dangerous qualities. The fertility goddess Taweret was often depicted as a female hippopotamus, with both feline and human characteristics. Hippos were sometimes captured and used in both regal ceremonies and spiritual rituals, as they symbolised a variety of things, such as chaos, protection, regeneration, and rebirth.  

From antiquated dentures, to deadly attacks, to dung spreading, hippos are quite the quirky characters. Both fascinating and fearsome in equal measure, these mighty mammals are certainly some of the most impressive creatures alive today (just so long as you keep your distance!).

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