Hippopotamus Definition | Characteristics & Facts


Hippopotamus Definition

A hippopotamus, commonly known as a hippo, is a large semi-aquatic mammal that belongs to the family Hippopotamidae. Hippopotamuses are native to sub-Saharan Africa and are known for their massive size, barrel-shaped bodies, and unique adaptations for their semi-aquatic lifestyle. Here are some key characteristics and features of hippopotamuses

Hippopotamus General Characteristics & Facts


The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) is a large semi-aquatic mammal native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is the third-largest land mammal, after the elephant and the rhinoceros. They have barrel-shaped bodies, short legs, and a large mouth with prominent canine teeth and incisors.


Adult hippos can reach an average weight of 1,500 to 3,200 kilograms (3,300 to 7,000 pounds) and measure about 3.5 to 5 meters (11 to 16 feet) in length. Males are generally larger than females.


They live in lakes rivers, and swamps throughout sub-Saharan Africa.


Hippos are generally social animals and live in groups called pods or bloats, which can consist of up to 30 individuals. They are known for their aggressive nature and are considered one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.


Hippos are herbivores and primarily graze on grass. They are bulk grazers and can consume around 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of grass per day. At night, they leave the water to feed on land, traveling several kilometers in search of food.


Hippos have a hairless, armor-like skin that secretes a thick, oily substance known as “hippo sweat.” This sweat acts as a natural sunscreen and antibiotic, protecting their skin from the sun and preventing bacterial infections.

Conservation status

The common hippopotamus is classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss, poaching, and illegal hunting for its meat and ivory canines. Various conservation efforts are in place to protect hippos and their habitats.


Female hippos give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of about 8 months. The calf is born underwater and immediately rises to the surface to take its first breath. The mother and calf develop a strong bond, and the calf is dependent on its mother for several months.


Hippos use a variety of vocalizations, including grunts, roars, and bellows, to communicate with each other. These vocalizations are used to establish territory, warn off rivals, and communicate within their social groups.

Role in the ecosystem

Despite their aggressive nature, hippos play an important role in their ecosystems. Their grazing helps to control vegetation, creating open areas for other animals. Their dung also serves as a source of nutrients for aquatic organisms.

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Physical Characteristics of Hippopotamus

Hippopotamuses, often referred to as hippos, are large semi-aquatic mammals with distinct physical characteristics. Here are some key physical features of hippopotamuses:

  1. Size: Hippos are among the largest land mammals. They can reach lengths of up to 4.8 meters (15.7 feet) and stand around 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) tall at the shoulder. Adult hippos typically weigh between 1,500 and 3,200 kilograms (3,300 and 7,000 pounds), with males being larger than females.
  2. Body Shape: Hippos have a barrel-shaped body with a massive, bulky appearance. They have a large, round head with a wide mouth, short legs, and a thick, stocky body. Their skin is thick and nearly hairless, with some sparse bristles on the face and tail.
  3. Skin: The skin of hippos is mostly hairless, although they possess some bristly hair around their mouth, ears, and tail. Their skin is gray or purplish in color, with a smooth texture. It secretes a thick, reddish substance known as “blood sweat,” which is neither blood nor sweat but acts as a natural sunscreen and moisturizer.
  4. Head: The head of a hippopotamus is large and heavy, with a broad snout. They have small eyes and ears positioned high on their head to allow them to see and hear while mostly submerged in water. Hippos have large, sharp incisor and canine teeth, which can grow up to 51 centimeters (20 inches) long in males and are used for defense and combat.
  5. Mouth and Teeth: Hippos possess powerful jaws and long, curved lower canines, which are used for biting and defending themselves. Their large incisors and premolars are adapted for grinding and crushing vegetation.
  6. Ears and Nostrils: Hippos have prominent, round ears that can rotate independently to detect sounds in different directions. Their nostrils are positioned on top of their snout, allowing them to breathe while most of their body is submerged in water.
  7. Limbs: Although hippos may appear somewhat ungainly on land, they are surprisingly agile in water. They have short, robust legs with four toes on each foot, each equipped with a large hoof-like nail.
  8. Tusks: Hippos have long, curved canine teeth, known as tusks, which can grow up to 51 centimeters (20 inches) long in males. These tusks are used for territorial displays, defense, and fighting with rivals.

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Scientific Classification of Hippopotamus

Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)

Phylum: Chordata (Chordates)

Class: Mammalia (Mammals)

Order: Artiodactyla (Even-toed ungulates)

Family: Hippopotamidae (Hippopotamuses)

Genus: Hippopotamus

Key Locations of Hippopotamus

  1. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  2. Kenya
  3. Tanzania
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. South Africa
  7. Zambia
  8. Zimbabwe
  9. Mozambique
  10. Angola
  11. Malawi
  12. Sudan
  13. Botswana
  14. Ghana
  15. Ivory Coast

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Hippopotamus FAQs

What does Hippopotamus Eat?

  1. Grazins
  2. Aquatic Plants
  3. Selective Feedings
  4. Browsing
  5. Coprophagy
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