One of the most popular wild animals amongst kids is the hippopotamus, and that’s because they learn to spell it with a song.
The hippopotamus is also known as the river hippopotamus or the common hippopotamus. It is a large, semiaquatic mammal, mostly herbivorous and ungulate native to the sub-Saharan African region.
It is one of two existing extant species that belong to the Hippopotamidae family, the other being the pygmy hippopotamus.
- Speed: 30 km/h (On Land, Running)
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Artiodactyla
- Family: Hippopotamidae
- Genus: Hippopotamus
- Species: H. amphibius
- Trophic level: Omnivorous
- Lifespan: 40 – 50 years
- Diet: Herbivore
- Mass: Male: 1,500 – 1,800 kg (Adult), Female: 1,300 – 1,500 kg (Adult)
- Habitats: River, Lake, Swamp
Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), also known as hippo or water horse, is an amphibious African ungulate mammal. Hippopotamuses are Often considered to be the world’s second-largest land animal (only after the elephant).
One can compare the hippopotamus in weight and size to the Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and the white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum).
Hippopotamus is the Greek word for “river horse,” and the mammal has been known ever since ancient times. Hippopotamuses are often spotted basking on the banks or even sleeping in the waters of lakes, rivers, and swamps close to grasslands.
Because of the enormous size and aquatic habits of this mammal, they are often safe from most predators. However, human beings have been the main predator as they have long valued their meat, hide, and ivory.
Humans may also attack hippopotamuses for ruining crops. History has it that they once ranged over the whole of the African continent and beyond, but hippos now live in central, eastern, and some parts of southern Africa.
Table of Contents
- General Characteristics of hippopotamuses
- Behavior of hippos
- Reproduction And Life Cycle
- Distribution of hippos
- Pygmy Hippopotamus
General Characteristics of hippopotamuses
The hippopotamus is the world’s second-largest land animal, and it has an enormous head, a bulky body on stumpy legs, a short tail, and four toes on individual foot.
Each hippo toe features a nail-like hoof. Male hippos are usually 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) long, stand 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, and weigh 3.5 tons (3,200 kg). In terms of physical size, the male hippos are the larger sex, as they weigh around 30 percent more than females.
The hippo skin is quite valuable to poachers as they come about 5 cm (2 inches) thick on the flanks but become thinner everywhere else and almost entirely hairless. Hippos have a grayish-brown color, with pinkish underparts.
The mouth of a hippo is half a meter wide and can also gape 150° to reveal the teeth. Hippos have sharp lower canines, and they may exceed 12 inches (30 cm).
Hippos may be land mammals, but they are well adapted to life in the waters. The eyes, ears, and nostrils of these animals are located quite high on the head, so it is possible for the rest of their body to remain submerged while they have their face features above water.
The ears and nostrils can easily be folded shut to prevent water from getting into their body through those openings. The body of a hippo is so dense that they can walk underwater, where they have the ability to hold their breath for as much as five minutes.
Although they are often seen basking in the sun, hippos are designed to lose water rapidly through their skin, and they become dehydrated without getting a periodic dip.
They must also get into the water often to keep cool as they do not sweat. Several skin glands release an oily pinkish or reddish “lotion,” which is responsible for the ancient myth that hippopotamuses sweat blood.
This unique pigment actually acts as a natural sunblock to filter out ultraviolet radiation.
Behavior of hippos
Hippos love to live in shallow areas where they can enjoy a sound sleep half-submerged (also called “rafting”). Their populations are significantly limited by this nature imposed “day living space,” which may become very crowded.
You can find as many as 150 hippos making use of one pool during the dry season. In times of famine or drought, they may carry out an overland migration that often leads to the death of many hippos.
By night, hippos travel along familiar paths to distances as far as 6 miles (10 km) into surrounding grasslands where they feed for between five to six hours.
Hippos have long canines and incisors, but those are mainly used as weapons; grazing is primarily accomplished by holding grass with the massive full lips and then jerking the head.
Close to the river, where hippo grazing and trampling are most common, large areas may be stipped of all grass, which eventually will result in erosion. However, hippos naturally eat relatively little vegetation for their huge body size (they eat about 35 kg per night).
This is so because they have shallow energy requirements and they are buoyed in warm water much of the time. Hippos are not ruminant animals, so they do not chew the cud.
Nevertheless, they can retain food in the stomach for a long, where protein will be extracted by fermentation.
Their digestive process is beneficial to nature as it cycles a tremendous amount of nutrients into the rivers and lakes of Africa and supports the fish that is an essential protein source in the diet of the people around and beyond.
Reproduction And Life Cycle
Females hippos are called cows, and they become sexually mature from ages 7 and 15 in the wild. For the male hippos, they mature slightly earlier, between the ages of 6 and 13.
However, in captivity, both male and female hippos may become sexually mature as young as ages 3 and 4. However, dominant bulls who are more than 20 years old are known to initiate most of the mating.
Bulls are known to monopolize select areas in the river or lake as mating territories for a decade or longer. Subordinate males are sometimes tolerated, especially if they do not try to breed.
Cows around will aggregate in these places during the dry season, which is the period when most mating occurs. There may be a rare eruption of battles when strange bulls invade already defended territories in the mating season.
Most hippo aggression is splash, noise, bluff charges, and a scary yawning display of the sharp teeth. However, in intense cases, opponents may engage in fierce combat by slashing upward at the other hippo’s flank with the lower incisors.
Though the skin in that area is thick, wounds can be fatal. Adjacent territorial bulls are known to stare at each other, then gradually turn, and, with their rear end out of the river, flip urine and feces in a wide arc by quickly wagging the tail.
This is a routine display that indicates that a territory is occupied. Subordinate and territorial males alike are known to make dung piles along pathways that lead inland, which is possibly a kind of olfactory signposts (scent markers) during the night time.
Hippos can recognize individuals by scent, and they sometimes follow others’ nose-to-tail during their night treks.
Fertilization usually results in a single calf that weighs about 45 kg (99 pounds), and the calf will be born after an eight months gestation period.
The calf can close its ears and nostrils when it needs to nurse underwater. A calf may climb onto the back of its mother above the water when it needs to rest.
It starts to eat grass by the first month and is eventually weaned between six to eight months of age. Hippo cows can produce young every two years.
Young calves may not be so small, but they are vulnerable to predators like lions, crocodiles, and hyenas. It is thought that hippo attacks on small boats are nothing but antipredator behavior, as the hippos may mistake the boats for crocodiles.
For this reason, hippos have long had a disturbing and undeserved reputation as aggressive creatures. Cows have a strong bond as they live in “schools,” but they do not have any permanent association with other cows.
However, they sometimes maintain close relationships with their offspring for some years. Longevity for hippos in captivity is up to 61 years, but rarely above 40 for those in the wild.
Distribution of hippos
Trampling and crop destruction by hippos is what led to determined and early efforts to exterminate them for good; their meat and hides were also much valued.
Hippos were everywhere in Africa, but they became extinct in northern Africa by the early 1800 and slowly vanished from south of Natal and the Transvaal by the year 1900.
They are still reasonably popular in East Africa, but there is no doubt that their populations continue to decrease throughout the continent.
There remains a high demand for hippo teeth as it is a fine-grained “ivory” that can be carved with easy; it was also used to make false teeth once upon a time.
After the international elephant ivory in 1989 went into effect, hunting pressure on Hippopotamuses increased, and the hippo populations rapidly declined.
A population assessment that was carried out in 2008 estimated that around 126,000 and 149,000 hippos were left.
There is a rare pygmy hippopotamus ( known as Hexaprotodon liberiensis or Choeropsis liberiensis), and it is the other living species of the family known as Hippopotamidae.
This hippo is around the size of a domestic pig. While the giant hippo is more of an aquatic mammal, the pygmy hippo is less aquatic, but can commonly hide in the water when pursued.
Less gregarious, it is often seen alone or with no more than one or two of its kind in the lowland tropical forests of Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, along with swamps, streams and in wet forests.
Liberians are known to call it a “water cow.” It feeds on some grasses and also on fallen fruits, fresh leaves of bushes and trees, and herbs.
The pygmy hippopotamus has been classified as an endangered specie by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since 2006.
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