If you love games, you may have played Hungry Hungry Hippos at one time. The plastic hippos in the game like to gobble up marbles. But what about real hippos? Do they eat marbles? If not, what exactly do they eat? And are they really hungry all the time?

The hippo is also known by its full name (hippopotamus) or its scientific name (Hippopotamus amphibius). Its name comes from the ancient Greek words for “river horse,” because these large mammals spend much of their time in the water.

After the elephant and the rhinoceros, the hippo is the third largest land mammal. Although hippos somewhat resemble pigs and other land-dwelling creatures, their closest living relatives are actually whales and porpoises!

This fact might explain why hippos are semi-aquatic. They spend much of their day (up to 16 hours or more) in the water. Living in rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps in Africa, hippos stay in the water or the mud to keep cool. At night, they head for land to graze on grass and other plants.

Despite a diet of mostly grasses and plants, hippos grow to be quite large. How large? Adult hippos can weigh as much as 8,000 pounds! They eat over 80 pounds of grasses and other plants each night.

So, hippos really are hungry, but not as hungry as you might expect. They only eat about 1% of their total body weight each day. Other animals, such as cows, can eat up to 2.5% of their body weight each day.

Hippos are easily recognized by their large, barrel-shaped bodies, huge mouths and teeth, stubby legs and almost-hairless bodies. Given their short legs and huge size, you might think hippos would be slow. But you would be wrong! Hippos can easily outrun a human over short distances.

If you ever find yourself near a hippo, watch out! Not only can hippos outrun you over short distances, they’re also known for being very aggressive. This trait makes them one of the most dangerous animals in all of Africa.

Hippos can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes or more. Their eyes and nostrils are on the tops of their heads, which helps them stay mostly underwater while still being able to see and breathe.

Occasionally, you’ll see hippos sunbathing on the shoreline. Don’t be alarmed, though, if it looks like they’re sweating blood. Their thick skin actually secretes an oily red substance that moisturizes the skin and acts like sunscreen to protect their skin from the sun and germs.

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  1. Yay! I am the first to comment! I loved today’s wonder. the baby pygmy hippo, monifa, is sooo cute! It is fascinating to learn that hippos are the third largest mammal in the world and that their closest living relatives are whales and porpoises. Thank you for todays’ wonder! :) ;)

    • You did a great job of summarizing everything you learned, Berkleigh! Nice work! We’re glad you learned something new and had fun WONDERing with us, too! :-)

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed our WOnder, Grace– and your mom, too! Thanks for sharing your comment with us– how cool that you’ve got the game already! :)

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Marsha! Check out the excerpt below for more information about your question:

      “The hippo is also known by its full name (hippopotamus) or its scientific name (Hippopotamus amphibius). Its name comes from the ancient Greek words for “river horse,” because these large mammals spend much of their time in the water.

      After the elephant and the rhinoceros, the hippo is the third largest land mammal. Although hippos somewhat resemble pigs and other land-dwelling creatures, their closest living relatives are actually whales and porpoises!

      This fact might explain why hippos are semi-aquatic. They spend much of their day (up to 16 hours or more) in the water. Living in rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps in Africa, hippos stay in the water or the mud to keep cool. At night, they head for land to graze on grass and other plants.”

  2. Hippos are very hungry as they eat one percent of their body weight each day. That means, in about 3 months, they eat all of they body weight! They usually eat various types of grasses.

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed our Wonder, Fiana!! Learning something new with great Wonder Friends like you is AWESOME! :)

  3. This was a really interesting WONDER!!

    When I saw the title How Hungry Are Hippos I said to myself REALY HUNGRY!!!! But I was wrong.

    When it said 1% I asked my sister (Emme) is 1% a lot and she said no 100% is the most so Emme looked up how much pounds 1% is and basically hippos only eat 80 pounds of food a day!!!

    This WONDER was really cool because I had to look up information about it!! :) :)

    • Great work, Cate! We’re thrilled that you and Emme did some WONDERing of your own today! WOOHOO! We are thrilled that you two used your imaginations and continued your WONDERing about hippos! Great work! :)

  4. I wonder if it is hard to tell if they are really bleeding because of their sweat? My mom and I looked up hippo sweat and found out there are actually two different kinds, called red hipposudoric acid and orange norhipposudoric acid. How interesting!!!

    • We’re so happy to hear that you and your mom have been doing even MORE WONDERing about hippos, Gavin! Nice work! We’re so proud of you; thank you for sharing the information you found as well! :)

    • SUPER guesses from Mrs. Bones’ 3rd grade class! We think you’re in for a chilly but fun Wonder! Thanks for sharing your comment today! :)

  5. The hippo is really cute. We found it interesting that hippos can eat about 80 pounds of grass or plants each night. Hippos are quite huge. And WOW! Hippos can weigh up to 8,000 pounds. We don’t have any hippos in the wild in Wisconsin, but we sure liked learning about them.

    • We are so glad that you learned so much about those hungry hippos, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Johnson’s 3rd and 4th grades! We are glad that you’ve been WONDERing with us today. Perhaps you’ll be able to see a hippo at the zoo in the future; we sure hope they’re not roaming around Wisconsin anytime soon! :)

  6. Hippopotamuses are very heavy creatures. But what if the hippo was 2 inches tall and 3 inches wide and 200,000 pounds? Would it still squash you or will it just seem really heavy?

    • You’re right, AnthonyS, hippos are very heavy! We think your creative hippo would look VERY interesting, but it would still be quite heavy! :)

    • Great Wonder, Shyaunna! Hippos are very cool animals to Wonder about; we bet you can do some more WONDERing and research of your own about the life of a hippo. Like other animals, if they feel threatened, they will do anything they can to protect themselves; sometimes that means running, sometimes that means attacking. Thank you for sharing your awesome comment! :)

    • Check out an excerpt from our hippo Wonder, Guner. You can Wonder about what hippos like to eat:

      “After the elephant and the rhinoceros, the hippo is the third largest land mammal. Although hippos somewhat resemble pigs and other land-dwelling creatures, their closest living relatives are actually whales and porpoises!

      This fact might explain why hippos are semi-aquatic. They spend much of their day (up to 16 hours or more) in the water. Living in rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps in Africa, hippos stay in the water or the mud to keep cool. At night, they head for land to graze on grass and other plants.
      Despite a diet of mostly grasses and plants, hippos grow to be quite large. How large? Adult hippos can weigh as much as 8,000 pounds! They eat over 80 pounds of grasses and other plants each night.

      So, hippos really are hungry, but not as hungry as you might expect. They only eat about 1% of their total body weight each day. Other animals, such as cows, can eat up to 2.5% of their body weight each day.” :-)

  7. Wow! I can’t believe hippos can weigh up to 8,000 pounds and they eat 80 pounds of grass and plants at night. I really like this site and I want to come back and read about other wonders. I did not know that hippos are related to whales.

    • Hey there, Jenny! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! We’re so glad you learned all about hippos with us– they’re such interesting creatures! We hope you’ll come back to Wonder with us again tomorrow! :)

    • Hey there, Kylie and Deborah! Thanks for making us smile! We are glad you shared WONDERful comment with us! Hippos sure are fun to Wonder about. What was your favorite part of this Wonder? :)

    • We’re so glad you learned a cool new fact with us, Isaac! While hippos are very large mammals, they are incredibly speedy! Whenever we’ve seen them, at the zoo, we always thought they would be slow movers! In addition to being fast, they are great at holding their breath underwater, too! We are so happy you’ve been WONDERing with us today- we are always learning here at Wonderopolis! :)

  8. This wonder reminded me of this video I watched on youtube. It was a hippo eating a big alligator. I’m not sure if that was the way of life or not. That video really grossed me out! Thank you for this wonder.

  9. This is the first Wonder we’ve done in our class and we loved it! What an interesting Wonder!
    Jaky wonders how much water hippos drink in a day. Tina wonders how fast and far a hippo can run. Margaret wonders if hippos live in groups, and if so, how many hippos live in one group. Trudy wonders how long those long front teeth can get.

    • Hello to our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Dowdell’s Class! We are thrilled you’re here, WONDERing with us! WELCOME! :)

      We are so excited that Jaky, Tina, Margaret and Trudy have been thinking about hippos and their lives! We hope you’ll continue to Wonder… perhaps you can even do some research online about hippos’ daily lives! HOORAY! Thanks for sharing your awesome questions. Have a WONDERful weekend! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Dean! We hope you’ll check out this Wonder for the answers to your questions. We’ve provided an excerpt below…

      “After the elephant and the rhinoceros, the hippo is the third largest land mammal. Although hippos somewhat resemble pigs and other land-dwelling creatures, their closest living relatives are actually whales and porpoises!

      This fact might explain why hippos are semi-aquatic. They spend much of their day (up to 16 hours or more) in the water. Living in rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps in Africa, hippos stay in the water or the mud to keep cool. At night, they head for land to graze on grass and other plants.

      Despite a diet of mostly grasses and plants, hippos grow to be quite large. How large? Adult hippos can weigh as much as 8,000 pounds! They eat over 80 pounds of grasses and other plants each night.

      So, hippos really are hungry, but not as hungry as you might expect. They only eat about 1% of their total body weight each day. Other animals, such as cows, can eat up to 2.5% of their body weight each day.” :)

  10. The grade 7H class enjoyed learning about hippos too! Corny L Wondered if you could outrun a hippo if you made shrp turns and ran in circles. Franz Wondered how many people have escaped from an angry hippo. Isaak Wondered if male hippos weigh more than female hippos. Peter, Corny N, Helena and Judy Wondered how long hippos live.

    • That’s awesome news, thanks for WONDERing with us, Mrs. Dowdell’s 7H class! We really enjoy the creative ideas you have shared when it comes to beating a hippo in a race! They are speedy animals, but we like the idea of running in circles and in different directions (as long as you don’t get dizzy, Corny L)! :)

      We bet there have been some close encounters with hippos and humans, Franz, especially if the humans were in the hippos’ territory! Perhaps our friends at National Geographic Kids have some interesting facts to share about hippos: http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/animals/creaturefeature/hippopotamus/ We bet Peter, Corny N, Helena, and Judy will find the answer to their question, too! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How hungry are hippos?
  • Where do hippos live?
  • How big do hippos get?

Wonder Gallery

Hungry HippoVimeo Video

Try It Out

Would you like to ride a river horse? That’s right! If given the chance, would you saddle up and go for a hippopotamus-back ride?

Where would you go? We’re sure a hippo could take you on a fantastic tour of the lakes and rivers of Africa. Don’t forget to wear your rain boots!

Could you imagine what the Wild West would’ve been like if cowboys rode river horses? Those old Western movies with John Wayne would’ve been a lot funnier if all the cowboys were on hippos!

Grab some art supplies and create a picture of what you think the Wild West might have looked like if all the horses were river horses. What would a hippopotamus saddle look like? Would cowboy hats look the same? Or would you wear something different if your hippo was constantly taking you through water?

And what about your cowboy boots? Instead of leather, would you have worn rubber boots to keep your feet dry from all the water crossings? Let your imagination run wild! When you’re finished, post your picture to Facebook to share with all your Wonder Friends. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Still Wondering

Check out EDSITEment!’s Art Safari resource, which takes users on an “art safari,” where animals and art are examined together.

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