|Picture by Ad Meskens [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL],|
Hippopotamus Facts: Learn More About The River Horse
Learn about the hippopotamus, or water horse, with this easy to understand article. The hippopotamus is certainly the most neglected wild animal! No one seems to care about it. It's all about lions and giraffes and zebras. Well, thanks to this hippopotamus facts page, you will learn and love the hippopotamus. Respect for the water horse!
Hippopotamus Facts: The Basics
The name hippopotamus is Greek for "river horse", but in fact these massive African mammals are relatives of pigs. They spend most of their time in lakes and rivers.
The common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious) lives in central and southern Africa. It is the second heaviest of all living land mammals and is outweighed only by the elephant. The pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis), which is much smaller than the common hippopotamus, inhabits the rain forests of Liberia and Sierra Leone in western Africa. The term "hippopotamus" which comes from the Greek words for river horse, was probably applied to the animals because they have a horselike head and live near rivers and lakes, spending more time in the water than on land.
Africans hunt the hippopotamus for its tusks, flesh, and hide. They eat the meat, which is reported to be stringy and distasteful to non-Africans, and they render the fat for lard. The tough hide of the hippopotamus is used to make whips and shields. Some are captured for zoos.
Hippopotamus Facts: Behavior of the Hippopotamus
The hippopotamus lives in herds that may number as many as 20 to 30 animals. It feeds chiefly on aquatic vegetation.
In addition to being an excellent swimmer, the hippopotamus can float and dive. When the animal is partially submerged, its nostrils and bulging eyes remain above the surface of the water so that it can breathe and watch for enemies. When it dives under the surface, the nostrils close automatically. A hippopotamus can stay underwater for more than 15 minutes.
While submerged, a hippopotamus can move along the river bottom at a rate of about 8 miles an hour. When frightened or annoyed, it sometimes rises suddenly to the surface and attacks boats, capsizing them and smashing them to bits. Often a fish, called the durumbia, swims about and feeds on algae that grow on the hide of the submerged hippopotamus.
Although the hippopotamus lives mainly in the water, it spends some time on the banks of rivers, where it suns itself. Usually at night it also makes short trips into the surrounding country to hunt for food. On land the hippopotamus can move as fast as a man can run. When frightened, the animal rushes for the safety of the water, trampling crops, small buildings, or anything else standing in its way. When on land, the hippopotamus secretes an oily pinkish substance, which may keep the skin from drying. Because of the secretion, many people mistakenly believe that the hippopotamus sweats blood.
Watch Underwater Hippos:
Hippopotamus Facts: Size And Appearance
The hippopotamus is the second heaviest of all living land mammals When fully grown, a large male common hippopotamus may weigh as much as 4 tons and reach a length of 14 feet, including its relatively long slender tail. Because its legs are very short, it may stand only 4 to 5 feet tall at the shoulder. The females are much than the males. A fully grown pygmy hippopotamus ranges in length from 5 to 6 feet. It ranges in weight from 400 to 600 pounds and stands 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall at the shoulder.
The hippopotamus has a long rounded body, which is covered by a thick dark-brown skin. Except for a few bristles on the head and tail it has no hair. The hippopotamus has four toes on each hoof. Its huge head has high-set protruding eyes and large nostrils, which are on the top of the squarish muzzle. The mouth of the hippopotamus is larger than that of any animal except the whale. It can open to a gape of 2 or more feet. The front teeth of the hippopotamus are tusk-like and continue to grow throughout life.
Hippopotamus Facts: Mating
During the mating season the males, called bulls, fight each other for possession of the females. Standing side by side and head to tail, they try to drive their tusks into the sides of their opponents.
About eight or nine months after the adults have mated, a single calf is born in shallow water. The calf of the common hippopotamus is about 3 feet long and 1 1/2 feet tall, and it weighs 60 to 100 pounds. Although the calf can swim at birth, it must learn to walk. For a time the mother carries the baby on her back as she swims about, even taking it below water when she dives. A hippopotamus lives for about 30 years.
Hippopotamus Facts: The Pygmy Hippopotamus
The pygmy hippopotamus is less fierce than its larger relative. It may also spend more time on land, rushing for a thicket when danger threatens, rather than for the water. Otherwise, its habits are similar to those of the common hippopotamus.