Hippopotamus – King of the River
The hippopotamus is a huge mammal that lives in Africa. It spends most of its time in rivers, lakes, and swamps. The hippopotamus is related to pigs. Its name is a combination of two Greek words that join to mean “river horse.”
Hippos have barrel-shaped bodies, short legs, and four toes on each foot. They are about 3.5 meters long and weigh more than 3,200 kilograms. Their hide is grayish brown and almost hairless.
The hippo has glands beneath its skin that secrete a pink, sweat–like substance. This biological fact has inspired the myth that hippos sweat blood. This pink substance helps to regulate the hippo’s skin temperature.
When it stays underwater, little flaps of skin close its nostrils. 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.
A single herd of hippos may include up to 100 animals. A new calf is about 1 m long and weighs about 27 kg when born. Baby hippos are born in the water and can swim before they can walk. Until young hippos start to swim by themselves, the young may ride on their mothers’ backs when in the water.
Females usually do not mate until they are seven or eight years old.
The pygmy hippopotamus is smaller and more piglike in appearance than its larger relative, the common hippopotamus. Its skin color is generally black, with a greenish tinge on the top of its back. Its belly is cream or yellow–gray. Its eyes are on the side of its round head instead of on top as in the common hippo. An average pygmy hippo has a head and body length of 1.5 to 1.7 meters and a shoulder height of 76 to 99 centimeters. It weighs between 161 and 272 kilograms.
The pygmy hippo is a solitary animal, spending much of its time on the shore near swamps and rivers. It feeds at night on leaves, shoots, grasses, roots, and fruits.
Pygmy hippos usually mate in the water and after pregnancy of 188 days, a female gives birth to one calf. She then nurses that calf for eight months.
The hippopotamuses are often hunted for their meat and hides, which are used to make whips and shields.