Larrie Stone

Larrie Stone

There aren't many animals that are uglier than the hippopotamus. The common hippo is the largest freshwater mammal living today, and is a distant relative of the pig.

The common hippo is found generally living around the rivers or small lakes in Central Africa. The adult male is slightly larger than the female standing 48 to 65 inches at the shoulder, between 11 and 15 feet in length, and weighing in at 5,000 to 8,000 pounds. Their large heavy, short-legged bodies have a thick layer of fat under a tough skin, and their slightly webbed feet have four toes. They have nostrils and ears which can be closed when they are submerged under water.

A typical adult will eat more than 200 pounds of fodder which includes grasses, water lilies and other greenery into its 40 to 50 gallon stomach every day.

A hippo spends most of its day sleeping and resting in or near water, coming out at night to feed. When molested, they will move into water or reed beds where they can lie unobserved with only their eyes and nostrils above the surface of the water. They can move quickly in the water, but they don't actually swim. Rather, they either walk underwater or bounce and propel themselves off the river or lake bed with their webbed toes. Their low bone density and large fat deposits increase their buoyancy, making it easier for them to move through water. It also helps that they can hold their breath underwater for 4 to 5 minutes at a time. It is also believed that they are capable of remaining submerged for some 30 minutes if necessary.

Sources describe hippos as being among the most dangerous and aggressive of all mammals. Animals that share their environment, such as lions, hyenas and crocodiles, give them a wide birth. The hippo will defend its territory or young using their large teeth and tusk-like canines as weapons. It is also said that they can ward off predators with the extremely loud sounds they can emit.

Larrie Stone is a retired Dana College science professor.

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