Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (2024)

Hippopotamus Facts

Size51-64 inches (130-165 cm) (shoulder height)
Speed18-25 mph (30-40 km/h) (short distances)
Weight2,866-3,306 pounds (1,300-1,500 kg)
Lifespan40-50 years
FoodWater plants, grass
PredatorsLions, crocodiles
HabitatGrassland, rivers, lakes, mud holes
OrderEven-toed ungulates
Scientific nameHippopotamus amphibius
CharacteristicsLarge, heavy ungulate with long canine teeth

Main Characteristics

Hippos are very large and heavy herbivores that live near water. They are the third heaviest land animals after the elephant and the rhinoceros. Their most striking features are their large mouth, their long, tusk-like canines, their cylindrical body and their short legs. The animals are considered aggressive and dangerous.

Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (1) Hippo - Photo: Redchanka/Shutterstock


There are two species: the large hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and the half-sized, lesser-known pygmy hippopotamus (Hexaprotodon liberiensis).


Closest Relatives

Hippos look similar to pigs because they have smooth skin and large tusks. However, these are not their closest relatives. In fact, they're most closely related to whales and dolphins. The species began to evolve separately around 55 million years ago.

Distribution and Habitat

Hippos live in Africa. The large hippopotamus lives in lakes, slow-moving rivers and grasslands. The pygmy hippopotamus has a slightly different habitat. It prefers rainforests and swamps. Because it is smaller, it gets through the thickets of the rainforest easily and, because it is lighter, it doesn't sink as much into the swampy ground.

Life Style

Hippos live in small social groups consisting of females, juveniles and one male. They are active at dusk and at night. This means that they are particularly active when it is dark and rest during the day. They spend about 16 hours a day in the water. Most of the time only their ears, eyes and nostrils stick out of the water. They only come to land to eat plants. Pygmy hippos tend to live more solitary lives.

Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (2) Hippo - Photo: Karel Bartik/Shutterstock

Anatomy and Appearance

Size and Weight

Hippos are the largest and heaviest mammals that live primarily in freshwater. They reach a shoulder height of 51-64 inches (130-165 cm). Their body length is 102-137 inches (260-350 cm). They weigh 2,866-3,306 pounds (1,300-1,500 kg). The females are slightly smaller and lighter. The heaviest hippo was a bull weighing 5,860 pounds (2,660 kg). A higher weight is unlikely, but you can still come across online sources claiming there was an individual that weighed 9,920 pounds (4,500 kg). Conversion errors between pounds and kilograms could be the reason.


Hippos have long canine teeth in their upper and lower jaws. In the upper jaw they can be up to 12 inches (30 cm) long. In the lower jaw even up to 20 inches (50 cm). According to the Guinness Book of Records, they can even reach a length of 28 inches (71 cm) and the longest hippo tooth was 48 inches (122 cm) long.


The hippopotamus has the largest mouth opening of any mammal in the world. By folding its lower jaw down, it reaches an impressive angle of 150-180° and a mouth span of 35-47 inches (90-120 cm) in width. Humans, on the other hand, are limited to reaching a maximum angle of 45°.


Hippos are even-toed ungulates. Even though you can't usually see their hooves very well, they have four toes. The toes are webbed to make it easier to move forward in the water.


The skin of hippos is about 2 inches (6 cm) thick.Hippos' skin looks very smooth. But if you look closer, you can see that she is very wrinkled. Almost no hair grows on it.

Sweating blood

Hippos have many small glands in their skin from which a red fluid comes out. It used to be believed that the animals “sweated blood”. But it is neither blood nor sweat. When the liquid comes out, it is transparent at first. After a few minutes it turns red to brown. It protects the animals from drying out and sunburn. It also prevents bacteria from spreading on the skin.

Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (3) Hippo - Photo: mountainpix/Shutterstock


Hippos eat 88 pounds (40 kg) of grass every day. At night, they leave the water and go on land to find places where there is lots of lush grass. They spend about six hours there before returning to the water. Even though they eat so much grass, they are not good at chewing their food. The large incisors restrict grinding movements of the lower jaw. It can move vertical but not side-to-side. Due to this, hippos are unable to chew and grind. They just mash the grass a bit before swallowing it.


Why Do Hippos Have Long Teeth?

Their long canines may seem impractical, but they actually serve a purpose. Contrary to popular belief, these teeth are not used for eating, but rather for defending themselves and engaging in fights with their rivals.

Why Do Hippos Open Their Mouths so Wide?

The purpose of a hippo displaying its open mouth is to create a threatening image, either to intimidate competitors or to ward off potential harm.

Are Hippos Dangerous?

Hippos exhibit aggressive behavior, especially when their territory is invaded or when they are protecting their young. Such encounters can quickly become dangerous. They attack without hesitation. Even though they're big and heavy, they're able to run amazingly fast and easily catch up with people. They can even flip over boats. Approaching these animals without caution can result in a life-threatening attack. Tragically, every year, individuals lose their lives due to either unintentionally or recklessly getting too close to these creatures. However, the animals usually don't attack if you keep your distance.

Hippos Defend their Territory

Hippos establish and protect their own territory. They mark the boundaries with their feces. Anyone who enters the territory is an intruder, is viewed as a threat and is attacked. This applies to animals and to people.

Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (4) Hippo - Photo: Johan Swanepoel / Shutterstock

Senses and Abilities


It's hard to believe, but hippos are actually bad at swimming, despite spending nearly all day in the water, sometimes up to 16 hours. Luckily, they have a nifty trick to move around in the water: They descend to the bottom and simply tread across it. They move lightly, almost like dancers or like Astronauts walking on the moon.


Hippos usually only stay underwater for 30-60 seconds. But most can dive for up to 5 minutes. It is said that they are even capable of diving for up to 30 minutes. Before going under water, the animals close their ears and nostrils.


When it comes to sleep, hippos prefer to doze off in the water, with their nostrils positioned above the surface for easy breathing. It's fascinating to know that hippos can actually sleep underwater without having to wake up when they need to breathe. They simply raise their nostrils above the water's surface while they're still asleep.


Hippos are surprisingly fast. They can run at speeds of up to 18 mph (30 km/h). That's about as fast as a human's world record for a 400 m sprint.



Do hippos make sounds? Yes. They use sounds to communicate with their fellow species. They even recognize each other by their voices. They also have a unique ability: they make sounds that can be heard both above and below the surface! How does it work? They produce sounds with their nose and mouth while the nose is above the surface and the mouth is below the surface. In this way they can communicate both above and below water.

Can Hippos Jump?

No. Neither do elephants and rhinos.

Bite Force

Hippos have incredibly powerful jaws. They are among the animals with the highest bite force in the world. Their bite force is 1,800 PSI (8,100 Newtons).

• Comparison

The bite force of the hippo is only beaten by the saltwater crocodile exerting 3,700 PSI (16,000 Newtons) and the great white shark exerting 4,000 PSI (18,000 Newtons). The average bite force of humans is measured at 120-160 PSI (280-300 Newtons).

• Units of Measurement

PSI is the abbreviation for “pound-force per square inch”. Newton is the unit of force combined with weight and speed. Both units of measurement can indicate the bite force of an animal.

Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (5) Hippo - Photo: Melissa Schalke/Shutterstock

Life Expectancy

In the wild, hippos live to be 30-40 years old. The oldest hippo in the world was called Bertha and lived to be 65 years old. It lived in a zoo in the Philippines. “Lu the Hippo” is currently the oldest living hippo. He turned 64 in January 2024 and lives in a game reserve in Florida.

Enemies and Threats

Natural Enemies

Adult hippos have no natural enemies. In rare cases, lions or crocodiles can snatch an unguarded cub.


The greatest threat for hippos are people. Because of us, hippos are losing more and more habitat. They're also hunted because they're aggressive and people are afraid of being hurt by them. Their meat fetches high prices on the black market. Likewise their tusks. They are used as an alternative to elephant tusks.

Population Numbers

The IUCN published in 2016 that there are around 115,000-130,000 hippos still alive. Nevertheless, the species is considered “vulnerable”. As for the pygmy hippo, according to a 2015 IUCN report, there are still around 2,000-2,500 animals left (as of February 2024, no more recent data available). It is considered “endangered”.

Importance for the Ecosystem

With their heavy weight and massive body, hippos create small ditches and water holes. These natural formations serve as habitats and offer protection for smaller animals. Additionally, the droppings of hippos contribute to fertilizing the soil.

Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (6) Photo: Chantal de Bruijne/Shutterstock


Hippos mate in water. After a gestation period of 227-240 days a single calf is born. At birth it already weighs 44-110 pounds (25-50 kg). Baby hippos can swim right from the start, because they are born and even suckle under water. The mothers are very caring. They let their baby ride on their back as they wade through deeper waters. When a predator approaches, they fiercely protect their young with all their strength.

Evolution and History

Hippos on the Rhine

Who would have thought: hippos lived in the river Rhine over 30,000 years ago. It was bitterly cold back then because it was an ice age. Nevertheless, the animals were able to adapt to the temperatures.


Hippos were first discovered on the banks of the river Nile. This is why the animals are still called „Nilpferd“ (Nil + Pferd = Nile + Horse) in German. However, the term is outdated and the animals no longer live on the Nile.

What Does Hippopotamus Mean?

The name derives from the Greek word "hippopótamos" and means "water horse" (hippo = horse; potamós = water). The scientific term is often abbreviated as "hippo".

Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (7) Photo: Karel Bartik/Shutterstock

Fun Facts

Why Do Hippos Have Long, Thin Tails?

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

Egyptian Goddess

The ancient Egyptians worshiped a goddess who looked like a hippo. Her name was Taweret. She was the patron goddess of pregnant women.


In ancient times, a horse racing track was called a hippodrome.

The Hippopotamus Is Related To:

  • Whales

Animals in the Same Biome:

  • African Elephant
  • Cheetah
  • Chimpanzee
  • Giraffe
  • Gorilla
  • Lion
  • Forest Elephant
  • Wildebeest
  • Zebra
  • Find Out More:
  • Animals That Sleep the Most
  • Watch Now on animalfunfacts.net:
  • All About Mammals
  • Why Do Animals Live in Groups?
  • The Strongest Animals in the World

Ungulate Species Fact Sheets

  • African Rhinoceros
  • Asian Rhinoceros
  • Cow
  • Donkey
  • Giraffe
  • Hippopotamus
  • Moose
  • Musk Ox
  • Okapi
  • Reindeer
  • Sheep
  • Tapir
  • Wildebeest
  • Zebra
Hippopotamus - Animal Facts for Kids (2024)


What are hippos facts for kids? ›

On this World Hippo Day, learn some fun facts about these beautiful animals!
  • Hippos are the third largest mammals on Earth. ...
  • There are two species of hippopotamids. ...
  • Hippos thrive underwater. ...
  • Hippos are a threatened animal. ...
  • Hippos are herbivores. ...
  • The gestation period of a hippo is 243 days (eight months)
Feb 15, 2022

How fast can hippos run? ›

Despite their massive bulk, hippos can run faster than humans -- up to 30 miles per hour.

What is a random fact about hippos? ›

Hippos can't swim or float! They walk or stand on surfaces below the water like sandbanks. Even so, they spend most of the day in water to protect their sensitive skin from the sun. They secrete an oily red substance that acts as a moisturiser, sunblock and protects them from germs.

What color is a hippo? ›

The animal is mostly purplish-grey or blue-black, but brownish-pink on the underside and around the eyes and ears. Their skin secretes a natural, red-coloured sunscreen substance that is sometimes referred to as "blood sweat" but is neither blood nor sweat.

What are 10 interesting facts about hippos? ›

Whereas the common hippo lives in large groups led by the most dominant male, pygmies prefer to stay on their own or in much smaller groups.
  • Hippos Are One of the Largest Animals on the Planet. ...
  • They Can't Swim. ...
  • Calves Can Suckle Underwater. ...
  • They Can Hold Their Breath for Up to Five Minutes. ...
  • Hippos Are Very Vocal Creatures.

How big is a 5 year old hippo? ›

Hippos are considered mature at 5 to 7 years old, though they may continue to grow for several years. At this age, their average weight is in the 2,000-pound range, sometimes close to 3,000, said Wingate. Fiona weighs 1,800 pounds.

Are hippos faster than lions? ›

The hippo only needs one powerful bite to crush the lion's limbs or puncture its vital organs, thanks to its huge teeth. Moreover, the hippo's weight alone could easily crush the lion. While lions are faster than hippos, they would likely choose to avoid confrontation or bring along pride for assistance.

Is a hippo faster than a rhino? ›

Rhinoceroses are fast runners (White rhinos 50 km/h, Blac k rhinos : 56 km/h, Indian rhinos 55 km/h - Top Speed). Hippos on the other hand are slower than rhinos and have a top speed of 30km/h. But, hippos are usually sluggish and are quite reluctant to run.

How high can a hippo jump? ›

Answer and Explanation: Hippos cannot jump, at least not on land. Underwater, hippos do not swim as much as they walk or gallop along the bottom of the river or lake, bouncing up to the surface to breath. In some ways, they look like obtuse astronauts bouncing over the surface of the moon.

Can a hippo swim? ›

Hippos cannot swim or breathe underwater, and unlike most mammals they are so dense that they cannot float. Instead, they walk or run along the bottom of the riverbed. Because their eyes and nostrils are located on the top of their heads, they can still see and breathe while underwater.

What do hippos eat? ›

Hippos are primarily herbivores, and their diets consist mainly of plants. They usually leave the water at sunset to begin grazing. Grasses comprise the bulk of their diet—a hippo eats up to 110 pounds of grass per night.

Are pink hippos rare? ›

On returning to the UK, we set about researching the occurrence of pink hippos and found that there have only been a handful of recorded instances, mainly in Uganda.

Why do hippos turn pink? ›

The chemists eventually discovered that hippo sweat is a clear liquid when it emerges from the skin: only after a few minutes' exposure to air does it turn crimson. They then traced that color change to two molecules, which they named, delightfully, hipposudoric acid and norhipposudoric acid.

Do blue hippos exist? ›

Real hippos are of course not blue, but mainly grey or brown. Blue was the color of the Nile River, where hippos lived. The Nile was a main source of life for the Egyptians, so among other things this bright blue symbolized life.

What are some facts about hippos for Grade 3? ›

Hippopotamuses spend the day resting in shallow water. They often sleep with just their eyes, ears, and nose above the water. A hippopotamus can also dive down and walk on lake and river bottoms. It can keep its head underwater for 5 to 10 minutes before coming up to breathe.

What hippo eats? ›

Many people think that hippos eat meat because they're so large in size. However, hippos are actually herbivores, meaning they only feed on plants. The majority of their diet consists of short grasses, but they will eat fruit if it's available.

Does a hippo eat meat? ›

Do Hippos Eat Meat? Going by their most observed habit and their stomach structure, scientific research maintains that hippos are herbivores. However, a few incidences have been observed of hippos eating meat from the carcass of another animal or even a dead hippo.


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