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5 fun facts about hippos


Hip hip hippo-ray! February 15th is International Hippo Day. Today, we celebrate this massive mammal found in Africa. Even though the word “hippopotamus” means “river horse” in Greek, scientists have discovered that the hippo is more closely related to the whale. In that case, let’s make a splash with Mr. Orlando and find out more about this amazing animal.


Unlike humans, hippos can hold their breath underwater for several minutes.
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Yup, hippos can hold their breath for five minutes when they’re underwater. But they don’t have to be fully submerged very often! Because their nose, eyes and ears are all on the top of their head, they can see, hear and breathe even when most of their body is hidden underwater. This helps them stay as cool as possible in the hot African climate. It also makes them very hard to spot!


Hippo with its mouth wide open.
Photo by Anita Ritenour liscensed CC BY 2.0

It’s true — there are few mammals as aggressive and dangerous as the hippo. Some of their teeth are deadly sharp and can grow to a length of 51 centimetres. A hippo can almost open its mouth at 180 degress — that's wide! They use their strong mouth and teeth whenever they feel threatened. Hippos attack humans who enter their territory or get too close to their young. Yikes!

Interested in animals? Read: A hippo and a rhino have become best friends!

Hippos sweat a red, oily substance that acts like a sunblock.
Photo by Dennis Jarvis licensed CC BY 2.0

When people first saw a red liquid on the hippo’s skin, they thought the hippo was sweating blood! But not to worry, this red liquid is an oily substance that helps a hippo’s skin from drying out. Another reason hippos stay in the water so much is to avoid the intense sun damaging their skin. So this liquid comes in very handy! And that’s not all. The liquid also acts like a natural sunblock, giving the hippo some extra protection.


Hippos can eat more that 40 kilograms of grass in one night.
Photo by Kimberly Brown-Azzarello licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Hippos are big creatures, which means they have big appetites. But instead of eating lots of meat like you’d expect, they are happy to munch away on grasses and plants. Hippos can eat more than 40 kilograms of grass in one night. That’s like eating over 17 bags of potatoes in one go! Hippos are most active at night and will keep a lookout for any tasty fallen fruit they can find, too. Being active at night means they can lounge about in the water during the day, another way they keep cool.


A group of hippos is called a pod.
Photo by David Davies licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 

Hippos are social animals and you can find anywhere from 10 to 20 hippos in a pod (in some cases even more). A pod is made up of adult males, some younger males, adult females and their young. But there’s one leader of the pod, and it’s usually the biggest and toughest male. If an unwanted male hippo or a predator, like a crocodile, is getting too close, he’ll open his huge jaw and show off his big teeth. He’ll also make loud grunts and splash aggressively. You don’t want to mess with him!