Skip to main content - The Animal Encyclopedia for Kids



Hippopotamus Facts

Size Up to 5.4 ft (1.65 m) (shoulder height); up to 17.7 ft (5.4 m) (body)
Speed 18-25 mph (30-40 km/h) (short distances)
Weight 1–4.5 t
Lifespan 40-50 years
Food Water plants, grass
Predators Lions, hyenas, crocodiles
Habitat Africa
Order Even-toed ungulates
Family Hippopotamus
Scientific name Hippopotamus amphibius
Characteristics Plump body, short legs, huge mouth, tiny eyes

Main Characteristics

Hippos are very heavy and large herbivores that live near water. They are nocturnal and live mainly solitary or in small groups. After the elephant, they're the second heaviest land animals. A special characteristic of the hippopotamus are their tusk-like canine teeth.

Hippo Photo: Redchanka/Shutterstock

Hippo Species

There are two kinds of hippos: the "normal" hippo and the less known pigmy hippo, which is about half as big. Both live in Africa. While the "normal" hippopotamus lives around lakes, slow-flowing rivers and grasslands, the pygmy hippopotamus has a slightly different habitat: rainforests and swamps. Because it is smaller, it gets through the thicket of the rainforest easily and, because it is lighter, it does'nt sink as much into the swampy ground.

The Name

Hippos were first discovered at the shores of the Nile. This is why the animals are still called “Nilpferd” in German. The term is obsolete and hippos do not live at the Nile anymore.

What Does Hippopotamus Mean?

Sounds like a tongue twister! That’s why the scientific term for the animal is often abbreviated as "hippo". The name derives from the Greek word "hippopótamos" and means "water horse" (hippo = horse; potamós = water). Maybe you have come across the term when you are a collector of "Happy Hippo" figures.

Hippo Photo: Johan Swanepoel / Shutterstock


What Do Hippos Eat?

Hippos eat 154 lb (70 kg) of water plants and grass every day to get full.

Are Hippos Dangerous?

Hippos are big and heavy, but they can still run fast. They're known to become aggressive easily. They can also capsize boats.

Hippos Are Solitary Animals

Hippos do not form groups. Even if you can see several hippos together in one place, they do not necessarily belong to one family or herd. The hippos form new groups every day. Only mother and child stay together.

Senses and Abilities

Are Hippos Good Swimmers?

Hippos almost spend all day under water, but they are rather bad at swimming. With their fighting weight of 4 tons they let themselves just sink to the ground and walk about there. This looks very light-footed, as if they were dancers.

What Sounds Does a Hippo Make?

Hippos have the unique capability to utter sounds that are easy to hear both below the surface and above the surface. How does it work? They create sounds with their nose and their mouth, while the nose is above the surface and the mouth below the surface.

Hippo Photo: Chantal de Bruijne/Shutterstock

The Hippo's Role In the Ecosystem

With their heavy weight and massive body, hippos create small moats and water holes. These provide habitat and protection for smaller animals. Hippos also help fertilize the earth with their excrement.


Hippos mate in the water. The female stays under water most of the time. After 227–240 days, it gives birth to a baby hippo. Baby hippos can swim right from the start, because they are born and even suckle under water.


The Oldest Hippo

The oldest hippo was named Tanga and reached an age of 61 years. It lived in Munich (Germany) and died in 1995.

Hippo Photo: Karel Bartik/Shutterstock

Fun Facts

Can Hippos Jump?

No. Neither can elephants and rhinos.

Why Do Hippos Have Long, Thin Tails?

If hippos have to defecate, they rotate their tail like a propeller and spread their feces everywhere to mark their territory.

Hippos Sweat Blood

At least people claimed this in the past. Hippos actually have glands which emit some sort of reddish sweat. This protects the hippos from dehydration, bacteria and sunburns.

The Hippopotamus Is Related To:

Animals in the Same Biome:

Ungulate Species Fact Sheets


Most Read Mammal Fact Sheets

Recommended Fact Sheets

Pupils are welcome to use this information at school for animal profiles, fact sheets, essays, work sheets, presentations, posters or homework. All information appearing on this site has been precisely and thoroughly researched, nevertheless should you notice any errors, please do notify us via email.

See all topics on