Hippopotamus

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Hippopotamus
A hippopotamus in the water at the Memphis Zoo
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Superorder: Cetartiodactyla
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Hippopotamidae
Genus: Hippopotamus
Species: H. amphibius
Binomial name
Hippopotamus amphibius
Linnaeus, 1758
Range map: red: hippopotami used to live in this area; green: hippopotami still live in this area

The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), or hippo, ancient Greek for "river horse" (Ιπποπόταμος), is a large mammal in Africa that usually eats plants. It is one of only two species in the family Hippopotamidae that are still alive. The other is the Pygmy Hippopotamus. The hippopotamus is the third largest land animal (the elephant is the largest, and the White Rhinoceros is the second largest). It is also the heaviest artiodactyl, even though it is much shorter than the giraffe.

The hippopotamus is semi-aquatic. This means that even though it usually lives on the land, it spends a great amount of time in rivers and lakes where males lead groups of 5 to 30 females and young. In the daytime, they keep cool by staying in the water or mud. They give birth to baby hippos in the water, too. At dusk, they come out to graze on grass. Hippopotamuses rest together in the water, but they like to graze by themselves.

The hippopotamus has a torso that is shaped like a barrel, a very big mouth and teeth, an almost hairless body, short legs and great size. It is the third largest land mammal, judging by its weight, which is between between 1½ and 3 tonnes. The white rhinoceros weighs 1½ to 3½ tonnes, and the three species of elephant weigh 3 to 9 tonnes. Even though it has short, fat legs, it can run more quickly than a human. Some hippos have run at 30 km/h (19 mph) for short distances. The hippopotamus is one of the fiercest animals in the world. It is often called one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. There are about 125,000 to 150,000 hippos in Sub-Saharan Africa. Zambia (40,000) and Tanzania (20,000 – 30,000) have the most hippos. They are threatened because they are losing their habitats and being poached for their meat and ivory teeth.

Etymology[change | edit source]

The word "hippopotamus" comes from the ancient Greek ἱπποπόταμος, hippopotamos, from ἵππος, hippos, "horse", and ποταμός, potamos, which means "river". So, "hippopotamus" means "horse of the river".[1] More than one hippopotamus are called hippopotamuses, hippopotami, or hippos.[2] Hippopotamuses are social. About 30 hippos live together in groups. This kind of group is called a pod, herd, dale, or bloat. A male hippopotamus is known as a bull. A female hippopotamus is called a cow, and a baby hippo is called a calf. The species is also known as the Common Hippopotamus or the Nile Hippopotamus.

Description[change | edit source]

A hippo at the zoo in Lisbon
A drawing of a hippopotamus skeleton
Inside the mouth of a hippopotamus

Hippopotamuses are the fourth largest mammals in the world (after whales, elephants, and rhinoceroses). The Egyptian Hippopotamus is much smaller than the others however. They can live in the water or on land. They swim very well, and can walk or even run along the bottom of a river.

Because hippos are so large, it is difficult to weigh them in the wild. Most adult male hippos weigh between 1,500–1,800 kg (3,300–4,000 lb). Females hippos are smaller, and usually weigh between 1,300–1,500 kg (2,900–3,300 lb). Older males can get even bigger. They are at least 3,200 kg (7,100 lb) and sometimes even weigh 4,500 kg (9,900 lb).[3][4]

Male hippos seem to keep on growing for their whole lives. Females hippos, though, become heaviest when they are about 25 years old.[5]

Hippos have big and heavy bodies, dark gray skin, and short legs. A hippo's main defence is their extremely strong mouth. Hippos are actually strong enough to break an alligator in half with one bite[source?], but they are usually not violent unless something attacks their babies. They can grow to be 15 feet long and weigh 3,000 pounds.[6]

Life[change | edit source]

Hippopotamuses are herbivores. They live in groups. Sometimes 30 hippopotamuses will live in the same place. They can't swim, so they actually walk along the bottom of the river.[6] They usually stay in the mud and water during the day and come out to eat grass or leaves at night. The people of the Congo love to eat hippopotamus meat.[6] Many of the hippos are killed for food, even though it is illegal.

Distribution[change | edit source]

Many hippos lived in North Africa and Europe[7] until about 30,000 years ago. They used to be common in Egypt's Nile region from long ago, though they are not there now. Pliny the Elder writes that, in his time, the best place in Egypt for finding this animal was in the Saite nome.[8] The animal could still be found around there after the Arab Conquest in 639. Hippos are still found in the rivers and lakes of Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, northern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia, west through Ghana to Gambia, and also in Southern Africa (Botswana, Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia). Some hippos also live in Tanzania and Mozambique. They like to live in places with water that is not too deep.

Hippos and humans[change | edit source]

A faience sculpture, from the New Kingdom of Egypt, 18th/19th dynasty, c. 1500–1300 BC, when hippos were still widespread along the Nile
Lounging at the London Zoo in 1852

Aggression[change | edit source]

Hippos are very aggressive towards humans, whom they commonly attack whether in boats or on land with no apparent provocation. This aggression by the Hippopotamus is caused by humans coming too close to their children. Hippopotami are very protective of their young and they often fear that humans pose a large threat to their young.[9] They are widely considered to be one of the most dangerous large animals in Africa.[10][11]

Archaeology[change | edit source]

The earliest proof that humans were involved with hippos comes from butchery cut marks on hippo bones at Bouri Formation from around 160,000 years ago.[12] Later rock paintings and engravings showing hippos being hunted. They have been found in the mountains of the central Sahara from 4,000–5,000 years ago near Djanet. Ancient Egyptians also knew much about hippos. They knew the hippo was a fierce, wild animal that lived in the Nile. In Egyptian mythology, Tawaret, a goddess of protection in pregnancy and childbirth, had the head of a hippo. This was because ancient Egyptians saw how protective female hippopotamuses could be about their young.[13]

References[change | edit source]

  1. Hippopotamus from Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary]
  2. Plural of hippopotamus from the OED
  3. "Hippopotamus: WhoZoo". Whozoo.org. http://whozoo.org/Intro98/herrick/sethherr.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
  4. "ADW: Hippopotamus amphibius: Information". Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Hippopotamus_amphibius.html. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
  5. Marshall, P.J.; Sayer, J.A. (1976). "Population ecology and response to cropping of a hippopotamus population in eastern Zambia". The Journal of Applied Ecology 13 (2): 391–403. doi:10.2307/2401788. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-8901(197608)13%3A2%3C391%3APEARTC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 History and Geography. LIFEPAC. Alpha Omega Publications. pp. 39 to 40. ISBN 978-1-58095-155-5.
  7. van Kolfschoten, Th. (2000). "The Eemian mammal fauna of central Europe". Netherlands Journal of Geosciences 79 (2/3): 269–281. http://www.njgonline.nl/publish/articles/000099/article.pdf.
  8. Pliny the Elder. "Chapter 15, Book VIII" (in Latin original or English translation). Naturalis Historia.
  9. "Are hippos the most dangerous animal?". 2006-12-06. http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mhippo.html. Retrieved 2008-08-09.
  10. Dangerous Encounters: Undercover Hippo. National Geographic Channel. Retrieved November 4, 2008.
  11. Hippo Specialist Group, World Conservation Union. (June 2008). In the News. Duke University. Retrieved November 4, 2008.
  12. Clark JD, Beyene Y, WoldeGabriel G, Hart WK, Renne PR, Gilbert H, Defleur A, Suwa G, Katoh S, Ludwig KR, Boisserie JR, Asfaw B, White TD. (2003). Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioural contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature. 423(6941):747-52. PMID 12802333
  13. Hart, George (1986). A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge. ISBN 0415059097.

http://www.ypte.org.uk/animal/hippopotamus/130 article retrieved on November 11, 2010

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