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

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.

Hippopotamus? What Does That 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 Hippo - Photo: Redchanka/Shutterstock

A Nile Horse?

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 The term is obsolete and hippos do not live at the Nile anymore.

In The Water and In The Air: Hippos Speak “Amphibian”

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.

Where Am I?

Baby hippos can swim right from the start, because they are born and even suckle under water.

Hippo Hippo - Photo: Johan Swanepoel / Shutterstock

Look Out, I am Doing the Propeller!

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.

Bad Swimmers, But Elegant Dancers

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.

Hippo Hippo - Photo: Chantal de Bruijne/Shutterstock

Boy, I’m So Hungry!

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

This One? My Buddy? No, I Don’t Know This One.

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.

The Oldest Hippo ...

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


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.

Hippo Hippo - Photo: Karel Bartik/Shutterstock

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