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The great African hippopotamus is second in weight only to the elephant. It spends up to 18 hours a day in water to keep cool and minimize heat loss, and support its huge body. The great African hippopotamus is ideally adapted to the deep rivers and grassy feeding grounds that form its habitat. Its skin secretes a sticky pink mucus, that protects the animal and helps it to retain water on dry land.
Habits: The hippopotamus usually lives in groups of 15-20 animals, although the groups can be much larger. The hub of the group is the band of females and their young. This group lives on territory patrolled by a dominant, solitary male who is at least 20 years old. A dominant male is able to defend his territory for as long as 10 years, until a fierce fight with a younger rival male may end his dominance – and even result in his death. Young males who do not have their own groups form small bachelor groups. If a male successfully challenges a rival, he leaves the bachelor group and becomes the dominant male in his new territory.
Breeding: When a female is ready to mate, she will seek out an adult male. After approximately 34 weeks, the female leaves the group and gives birth to a single young. Sometimes the young is born underwater, and it must surface quickly to take its first breath. Within 5 minutes of birth, the young hippo can swim and walk. The mother suckles the young hippo for only 8 months, although it remains with her for several years. A female is often seen with several young following her; the youngest walking closest and the oldest following at the end.
Food and Feeding: The hippopotamus spends up to 18 hours a day in the water keeping cool. It feeds during the hours following sunset. With the exception of mothers and their offspring, the animals leave the water singly to make their way along well-worn paths to their feeding grounds. If the hippo finds a wallow of muddy water, it may remain immersed in it for much of the day. It may feed in the new area rather than returning to its usual feeding ground. For such a large animal, the hippo eats surprisingly little – about 90 pounds a night. This is partly because it stays submerged in water most of the time, which uses up little energy.
Key Facts: Sizes, Breeding, Lifestyle, and
Length: 10-11 ft.
Height: 5 ft.
Weight: Males 3,300-7,000 lb. Females up to 3,300 lb.
Sexual maturity: Males, 7 years (though do not usually breed until age 20). Females, 9 years
Gestation: 240 Days
Birth season: Coincides with rainy season
No. of young: Single young
Habit: Sociable, living in groups of 10-20, but can be up to 150
Call: Roars and bellows
Lifespan: 45-50 years
Related Species: The hippo family includes
the rarer pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis).
Distribution: Hippos are found in western, central, eastern, and southern Africa, with the highest concentration in the Rift Valley of eastern and central Africa.
Conservation: Hippos are not in danger of extinction, and in many areas, overgrazing by large hippo populations has caused serious soil erosion, resulting in their removal by organized hunting.
Special Features of the Hippopotamus:
Head: Shape is adapted to a life in the water, with eyes, ears, and nose set along the top.
Threat Display: Hippo may open jaws wide to display teeth to deter a rival or predator.
Teeth: Enormous canines in the lower jaw may be 20 in. long and can inflict lethal wounds.
Skin: Thick and protective. A sticky fluid exudes from glands, causing the hippo’s skin to appear pink. This fluid gives natural protection from sunburn and is thought to disinfect the open wounds of fighting males.
Did You Know:
Because it loses water through its skin much faster than other mammals, a hippo can not survive for long on dry land in hot weather.
A hippo can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes and often walks along the bottom of lakes.
Turtles, birds, and even young crocodiles often bask in the sun on the backs of hippos.
The term “sweating blood” comes from the hippo’s function of secreting a pink fluid from glands beneath its skin.
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