1. Hippos are really big
Pictures like this don’t do it justice – but the hippo is actually the 3rd largest animal on land! First is elephants (obviously), and 2nd place is rhinos. A fully grown adult hippo can get up to 4.5 tonnes – that’s the weight of a small bulldozer!
2. Hippos are related to whales
The closest living relatives of the hippo are actually whales and dolphins! About 55 million years ago whales looked a lot more more hippos, and gradually evolved to live completely at sea. Whilst at sea, these long-lost hippo cousins got even bigger – and now the blue whale isn’t just the largest animal on the planet, but the largest animal that ever lived!
3. They can’t swim!
Yep – unlike their whale relatives, hippos actually can’t swim, or even float! They spend their days walking along the bottom of rivers and lakes, and never go out of their depth.
4. They’re vegetarian
Despite having a mouth full of pretty fearsome looking teeth, hippos are herbivores – so they only eat plants. Specifically, hippos eat the plants that grow by the side of rivers and lakes, so ferns and grasses – that kind of thing. These plants are often pretty low in nutrition, so hippos have to eat lots of it – and have extra long guts to get the most of it!
5. Not all their teeth are for eating
Like all herbivores, hippos use powerful back teeth to crush and grind their food. But hippos also have those huge spiky teeth at the front. These aren’t for eating, but actually to use as weapons! Hippos can be pretty aggressive, and these big teeth are often used to scare other hippos away!
6. They can hold their breath for a really long time
Hippos have special flaps of skin that they use to seal their nostrils and eyes, so they can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes! Hippos often do this when they feel threatened, but have even been seen sleeping underwater this way too!
7. Hippos are very social animals
Hippos live in big groups, and have been observed in all kinds of complicated social interactions. It’s hard for us humans to understand what life as a hippo is like, but there’s clearly a lot going on that we just don’t understand!
8. A group of hippos is called a bloat!
9. They can get sunburnt!
One of the reasons hippos hang out in water so much is it protects them from the sun’s harsh rays. Just like us, if they spend too much time in the hot sun of sub-Saharan Africa, they’ll have a bad time. Unlike us though, hippos produce a kind of red oily sweat from their skin that works like a natural sunblock!
10. They make a lot of noise
Hippos are very vocal animals, and they make loads of noise. Their noises have been described as honks, grunts, growls, roars and even squeaks! We still don’t know exactly what they mean, but we guess the noises are to warn others of danger or calling to their young. They could just be saying hello!
11. There’s a pygmy hippo
These very cute smaller hippos are very rare, and difficult to study. This is because they live in wet forests and only come out at night – and unfortunately they’re quite endangered.
12. Hippos communicate using poo
Hippos can be very territorial animals, and males often fling their poo around to show that they’re the boss of a particular area! Hippos can even tell the difference between friendly and hostile hippos by smelling their poo. A useful skill – we wish we could do that!
13. They can run really fast
Hippos can run really fast! Clocking in at a max speed of almost 20mph, hippos can outrun most humans. And you really wouldn’t want a hippo chasing after you (as we’ll find out in the next fact). Hippos don’t need much time to reach their top speed either, and can start running at a fast pace after just a few seconds!
14. They’re really dangerous
Hippos actually kill more humans than any other large land mammal. That’s more than lions, tigers, elephants – you name it! They don’t go out of their way to harm humans though, and only ever attack if we move into their territory. So if in doubt – leave the hippos alone!
15. They need our help
Despite their size, hippos are very vulnerable animals. Like all animals on Earth, hippos are threatened by climate change and the loss of their habitats. It’s up to us (especially young people) to educate ourselves and put pressure on governments and big companies to stop climate change and save amazing animals like hippos.