Hippos are smart

Big hippo

Profile, systematics, appearance, reproduction, development, way of life, behavior and nutrition. Did you know?


  • Body length: 4 - 4.5 m
  • Weight: 1.3 - 3.2 t
  • Life expectancy: 30 - 50 years
  • Distribution: Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Habitat: lake, swamp and slowly flowing water
  • Species population: endangered


  • Class: Mammals
  • Order: cloven-hoofed
  • Family: hippos
  • Genus: Hippopotamus
  • Type: Big Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius)


Hippos are very clumsy. They have sturdy, short legs to support their enormous weight and a square head with gigantic incisors and canines in their mouths. These grow back for a lifetime. The largest tusk ever found was 64.5 centimeters long. Their thick, gray to brownish skin is covered with glands that secrete a salty red fluid. This secretion not only keeps the skin of the heavyweights moist, but also protects it from the scorching African sun and has an anti-inflammatory effect. Because of its red color, it used to be thought that animals would sweat blood.

Reproduction and development

The mating of the hippos takes place in the water. After a gestation period of around eight months, a single baby weighing around 50 kilograms is born in the water, the skin of which is still gray-pink in color. The hippopotamus babies are almost always born during the rainy season in October and April, because at this time the mother finds a lot of lush grass and can therefore also give enough milk. Immediately after the birth, away from the other hippos, the mother lifts the offspring with her snout in the air so that they can breathe. Since the little ones can soon hold their breath for up to 20 seconds, suckling takes place under water. When they are a few weeks old, the children return to the herd with their mother. There are real "mother-child groups" in which the females take turns looking after their offspring, who play with their young conspecifics.

Way of life and behavior

The gray giants are the only cloven-hoofed animals to spend a large part of their lives in the water. They are quite gregarious and live in flocks. During the day they sunbathe together in lakes or slowly flowing waters and are only too happy to be visited by a little bird, the maggot chopper. Like many other animals in Africa, it helps them with their body care: it picks annoying vermin from the skin of its "customers". Hippos are great divers too: not only can they stay underwater for up to six minutes, but they can also seal their nostrils. Only at night do they go ashore and graze there.


Hippos can often be seen in pictures with their mouths wide open. What looks like a hearty yawn is often everything else a sign of tiredness: the cops try to intimidate rivals by showing their powerful canines. Another threatening gesture is to stare the other person in the eye. If all attempts at intimidation fail, a fight ensues that can last up to two hours. The angry male hippos then try to ram the opponent's teeth into the body by hitting the head. Most of the time, such arguments are about the best places near the females. It can very well be fatal for one of the opponents.


Similar to cattle, hippos have a stomach with multiple chambers. They only eat after sunset; but then they devour vast amounts: up to 45 kilograms of grass per night, with the females being able to eat even more than the males. To do this, they visit pastures near their native waters. To get there, they stick to their beaten track, the so-called "Hippo-Trails". You can see these well-trodden trails from the air.

Did you know?

The closest relatives of the hippos are not the horses, as the name suggests, but the pigs. These also belong to the order of the artifacts. The "Hippos" (from the scientific name "Hippopotamus") were simply incorrectly described in antiquity and therefore counted among the horses. Also the common name"Nilehorse "is misleading: the colossi on the Nile were exterminated at the beginning of the 19th century.

Here is a hippopotamus video: