Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lillie. Lillie Wonders, “Why are Pygmy Hippos so small? What makes them pygmy?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lillie!

Have you ever visited a zoo? If so, you know they can be magical places full of fun for nature-loving kids and adults alike. You’ll find creatures of all shapes and sizes—including the giants of the animal kingdom! Many kids love visiting the giraffes, elephants, and hippos most of all.

Of course, some of our Wonder Friends may already know that not all hippos are giants. In fact, compared to its enormous cousins, the pygmy hippo may seem quite small! Also known by its scientific name, Choeropsis liberiensis, this species grows to about a tenth the weight of a common hippo.

Why are pygmy hippos so small? Simply put, animals are a lot like people in that they come in all sizes. Even related species can be drastically different sizes. Pygmy hippos aren’t the only example, either! Pygmy seahorses, pygmy possums, and pygmy marmosets are all much smaller than their more widely known relatives. 

At birth, pygmy hippos weigh about 7.5 to 14 pounds. Just how large do they get? A full-grown adult can be anywhere from 350 to 600 pounds. They’ll reach a height of about three feet and a length of five to six feet. 

Pygmy hippos are native to the forests of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire. Today, they are considered endangered. It’s very rare to see one in the wild. Experts say the biggest factor in the decline of their population is habitat loss.

What do pygmy hippos eat? They’re vegetarians who like to munch on leaves and roots. They also enjoy fruit. In captivity, they’re normally fed hay, greens, and protein pellets.

What sets pygmy hippos apart from common hippos? Other than their size, the pygmy species also spend less time in water. Its feet are also less webbed. Other physical features, such as head shape and eye placement, are markedly different. Pygmy hippos are also much less social. They prefer to live alone or in pairs, but hippos may live with their mother for their first few years of life. 

Like common hippos, pygmy hippos are nocturnal. They also secrete their own sunscreen. This takes the form of a pink fluid that prevents hippos’ skin from becoming too dry. It also protects them from sunburn.

You may not be able to spot a pygmy hippo in the wild, but you have a great chance of seeing one in a zoo. They have a better chance of surviving there than in the wild. Look for this small species of hippo on your next trip to the zoo!


Wonder What's Next?

If a Wonder of the Day isn’t BOKEH, don’t fix it!