As we all know, the hippopotamus loves water. There are many reasons as to why and in this blog I will share a few of these reasons with you.
A body of water that is deep enough to fully submerge is a hippo's safest and happiest place, their tranquil breakaway.
Hippos are well adapted to the aquatic lifestyle. Their ears, eyes, and nostrils are located high on the head so that the rest of the body can remain submerged. The ears and nostrils can be folded shut to an airtight seal in order to keep out water.
This design is of utmost importance because these creatures spend up to sixteen hours a day submerged in rivers and/or dams to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun. Their skin is hypersensitive to the sun and so escaping into the cover of water is a must for these animals. If they do not find this cover, the sun can dry their skin up so much that it could lead to their skin bursting open. Any open wound to an animal is life threatening particularly in the wilds of Africa.
As sad as it is, this is a reality in Africa. This can be common during the dryer, winter months. Water sources start to dry up and individuals have to start wondering further out in search of water. If they get lucky and find water, they might have to face yet another problem - to potentially face the grumpy territorial male that dominates the area.
You can just think to yourself, with these massive weapons in an almost 180 degree gape;
These fights can be quite intense and also life threatening to the individuals involved.
In a calm environment, the hippopotamus is graceful in water despite their bad swimming abilities (they walk/run on the water body surface).
To limit contact with the sun, these animals have further more perfected the art of aquatic life. They can hold their breath under water for up to five minutes when awake but can push this to up to twelve minutes when asleep. That’s quiet impressive knowing that the average human can only hold their breath for no longer than a minute.
How do these massive hippos do it? Well, this is possibly due to the fact that their entire system slows down when in water. Their heart rate slows, the buoyancy inflicted by the water take a load of stress off their heavy bodies (2000kg) and vital organs. This is pretty much a perfect solution to an animal on the heavier side.
Unfortunately for them, they cannot spend all day in the water as they need to spend some time on the banks to warm up as well as to move out to find something to eat. No, they do not eat fish, they eat grass.
At sunset, the hippos leave the water and travel overland to graze. As they are bulk grazers, they may travel between ten and fifteen kilometers in a night, along single-file pathways, to consume up to thirty kilograms of grass. Considering their enormous size, a hippo's food intake is relatively low. This again comes down to the buoyancy factor and how much energy they get to save while in water.
To prove the efficiency of their buoyant lifestyle, let us compare the grass intake of a white rhino who is purely terrestrial and is of similar size and weight to the hippopotamus. Hippos have to eat only a third of what a white rhino needs to eat each day. Quite shocking, a white rhino needs to eat almost 100kg of grass per day in order to keep its heavy body moving.
But now after the hippos night out, they usually return to the same body of water around sunrise.
In saying this, they may have ventured too far the night before and will need to retreat to a body of water that is a bit closer to access before the sun gets them. They will then make their way back to their usual water source the next morning.
Seeing that water is a large part of a hippos life, they also use the safety of the water to escape any potential threat. If a hippo is in the water, no predator can do it any harm.
What about a six meter Nile crocodile you might ask?
Well yes, this could be a threat to a small calf but the youngsters will not leave moms side and will only be weaned at around the age of 8 months. By then the calf will be strong and wise enough to fend for itself. But before this time comes, the female hippo will be incredibly protective over her baby and it has been seen and proven that an adult hippo can bite a fully grown croc in half with ease.
So regardless as to where you might find a hippo, it’s best to stay clear of its safe zone and their powerful jaws.
I hope this blog has taught you something new. Please feel free to leave me any questions you may have in the comments below.