Hippopotamus Facts


Meaning: The hippopotamus was named by the Greeks – means “river horse.” But the hippo is more closely related to the pig than the horse.
Hippo Classification: The hippopotamus (hippo) belongs to the family Hippopotamidae, which includes two species, the hippopotamus (H. amphibius) and the pygmy hippopotamus (link) (Choeropsis liberiensis). Read more on pygmy hippos.

Physical Characteristics: Hippos have a head and body length of 10.8–11.3 feet (3.3–3.45 m). Males are normally larger and weigh more than females. Hippos range in weight from about 1,764–7,056 pounds (800–3200 kg). The hippopotamus hide alone can weigh half a ton. Read more on hippo physical characteristics.

Life Style & Range: The hippopotamus lives in western, central, eastern and southern parts of Africa. The hippo inhabits rivers and lakes, and wallows during the day. At night, hippos graze in short grasslands. They range from central and southern Africa to western Africa; south of the Sahara Desert. They are mostly found along the Nile River Valley and in game parks and reserves. Read more on hippo lifestyle.

Life Span: Hippopotamus can live up to 45 years in the wild, up to 49 years in captivity.

Diet: In the wild: Numerous species of short grasses (over 150 pounds each day). Amazingly agile for their bulk, hippos are good climbers and often traverse rather steep banks each night to graze on grass. They exit and enter the water at the same spots and graze for four to five hours each night in loop patterns, covering one or two miles, with extended forays up to five miles. Their modest appetites are due to their sedentary life, which does not require high outputs of energy.

At the Zoo: Grass hay, romaine lettuce trims, pellet feed and occasional treats, which include apples, carrots and seasonal pasture grazing.

Male Hippopotamus: Adult males are solitary but sometimes form bachelor groups. At a lake, a male’s territory consists of a strip of water and the adjacent land, approximately 820-1,640 feet (250-500 m) in length. At a river, territory is usually about 164-328 feet (50-100 m) in length. Solitary males are usually territorial and their territories often include a group of females with their offspring. Males maintain their territories for 4-8 years and during this time, hold the exclusive mating rights to resident females. Non-territorial males do not breed. Read more about hippopotamus habitat & behavior.

Female Hippopotamus and Hippopotamus Baby: The females give birth to one calf at a time, and often only every 2-3 years. Before they’re about to give birth, the mother will isolate herself from the herd, then stay isolated with the baby from 10 – 44 days before rejoining the bloat. Did you know they also give birth underwater? They do that so the baby won’t fall and die. When the baby is born, it floats up to the top for air, so unlike us, the first thing a baby learns is how to swim! Newborns weigh about 93 pounds (42 kg). The baby will nurse for the first 12 months and generally stay by the mother for several years. Often you can see the baby lying on the mother’s back when she’s in the water. The females in the herd normally take turns ‘hippo-sitting’ until the young are old enough. Read more on hippo reproduction and baby hippopotamus.

Hosts: Hippos are hosts to many creatures. Birds, such as hammerhead storks and cattle egrets, use hippos as perches for fishing while hippos stand in water. Birds pick flies, ticks and other insects off the skin of hippos. These birds do the hippos a favor by removing the pesky bugs. Another creature which hippos play host to is the Oculotrema hippopotami, a parasitic fluke found on 90% of all hippos’ eyes. In the water, certain fish species eat algae and other deposits off the hippos’ skin

Predators: Compared to other animals, hippos are not very susceptible to disease, so in suitable habitats, their numbers can increase quickly. Their chief predators are people, who may hunt hippos for their meat, hides and ivory teeth.