Underdogs of the Animal World: Hippos
Hippos are hardly the most photogenic animal. It might be the massive teeth, the soggy, grey skin or maybe just the overall look that leaves us feeling like they might secretly want to eat us. But they don’t, honest! These adorable monsters are actually pretty sweet.
The name, hippopotamus, is literally translated from the Greek meaning “river horse.” You would be mistaken for thinking then, that hippos must be related to horses, because they sure don’t look like them. In fact, it turns out that the Greeks were very confused and super wrong. Hippos aren’t related to horses, or to pigs, like modern scientists were thinking until they got a bit more clued in. Hippos are actually most closely related to whales. Yep, Free Willy is more likely to rock up to a family reunion than Maximus, but way less likely to bring guacamole, which, let’s face it, is what everyone shows up for.
The Greeks were right about the water part. Hippos can spend up to sixteen hours a day submerged in the water, in order to keep cool, since they live in Africa where it can get pretty hot.
When you imagine a hippo in the water, you don’t really think of them as being graceful. But hippos turn into Michael Phelps as soon as they touch the water, not literally, although that would be awesome. Anyway, Michael Phelps can’t close his ears and nostrils and stay under the water for up to six minutes, just chillaxing. Hippos? They can do that.
Hippos don’t just hang out under water to stay chilled; they also have this insane ability to secrete their own sun screen. Pretty cool right? Pun totally intended. This special sun screen stuff also helps to moisturize and protect the hippo against germs. The hippo will produce a LOT of it when he or she gets excited, which is handy, because exciting stuff usually happens outside of the water. The only problem with this magic sun screen is that it kinda, sorta, possibly looks a teensy bit like blood. Ew. But yay for not having to buy pricey beauty creams!
Since it’s so sweltering during the day, hippos wait until nightfall to venture out for snacks. And when they eat, boy do they eat. There’s no staring at the fridge for an hour, then deciding on the nouvelle cuisine option of three pop tarts, topped with half a jar of peanut butter and sprinkled with Cheetos. Nope. Hippos know not of our culinary delights. Instead they pack in 80 pounds of grass every night. That’s actually not much, considering how, ahem, voluptuous they are, but they get away with it because they’re not really the most active of creatures.
When hippos are prompted to move, they can run up to 30mph, despite weighing up to a big and beautiful three and a half tons. They’re not always that big, obvs, but even baby hippos weigh around a hundred pounds. Hippo calves will suckle on land or underwater, by closing their nostrils and their eyes. It’s much safer for them to be out of the water though, since male hippos get jolly angry sometimes and try to attack them—but only when they’re in the water. No worries though, since the calf and their mother will join a group of other calves and mothers for protection, and you can sometimes see calves resting on their mothers backs in the water, just keeping an eye out for predators. As you do.