The hippopotamus, more commonly referred to as the
hippo, is a large mammal that can be found in sub-Saharan
Africa. Its name, derived from ancient Greek, translates
to "river horse," alluding to its affinity for water
and its great heft and might. The hippopotamus' closest
living relatives belong to the order Cetacea, which
includes whales and dolphins.
The hippopotamus is well-known for its size, and for
good reason; it is the third largest extant land animal,
being smaller than only the elephant and the rhinoceros.
On average, the hippopotamus measures 11 to 17 feet
in length, excluding its tail, which measures almost
two feet in length. They also measure about five feet
in height, and weigh about 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, with
females' being slightly smaller than males. The heaviest
known hippo weighed about 9,900 pounds.
The hippopotamus is a semi-aquatic animal, meaning
that it occupies both water and land. The hippo spends
most of its time in water, in particular freshwater
bodies, including to mate and give birth, but comes
to land at dusk to graze on grass. Despite its seeming
preference for water, the hippopotamus cannot swim will
and does not float in water, and is therefore rarely
seen in deep water.
Despite its menacing size and frame, the hippo is not
a predator but an herbivore, mostly eating grass and
fruit. It is most likely simply to graze on short grass,
and can eat 150 pounds of grass daily. However, it will
also eat fruit that has happened to fall to the ground,
and has an acute sense of hearing that allows it to
detect when a piece of fruit falls from a height.
The hippopotamus' sense of hearing is not only impressive
on land. Hippos have large jaws that are connected in
the very backs of their skulls. This feature not only
allow them to open their mouths impressively widely,
but lets them hear underwater, as sound travels through
the hippopotamus' jaw and enables it to hear while submerged
or partially submerged in water.
The hippopotamus is not a social animal, tending only
to form mother-daughter bonds. However, hippos tend
to huddle together in groups in the water, a behavior
that remains unexplained. Hippos seem to communicate
vocally, though the purpose of their vocalizations is
also unknown. On land, the hippopotamus is distinctly
more solitary than in water.
Female hippos reach sexual maturity at around the ages
of five to six years, while males do so at about the
age of seven and a half years. It seems that hippos
most commonly breed at the end of the wet season in
the summer, and give birth after eight months at the
beginning of the wet season in the winter. Females can
reproduce about every two years. A female typically
produces one young at a time, though may have twins.
About the Author
Jacob Maddox manages content for Wildlife Animals http://www.wildlife-animals.com
an educational wildlife and animal website.