Can Hippos Swim? Swim-pressive Hippo Facts You Didn't Know!

Ayan Banerjee
Feb 23, 2023 By Ayan Banerjee
Originally Published on Nov 11, 2021
Edited by Katherine Cook
Hippo swimming underwater

Can hippos swim or float?

Do you know that hippos neither swim nor do they drown? Then how do hippos manage to spend all that time in the water?

The hippopotamus is the second-largest animal species on land after the elephants and is powerful and dangerous in the water. The most important fact about these amazing mammals is that they cannot swim, but their classification according to habitat is that they are aquatic mammals.

They live primarily in the water but without any natural gills. The hippopotamus runs below the water with some contact points. Their expected lifespan is up to 50 years. Hippos eat grass up to 1.5% of their total body weight every day and can weigh up to 7000 lb (3175 kg).

It is known that hippos tend to grunt, growl, and moan. They also make a roaring chuffing sound. Their group makes a noise that reaches up to 115 dB.

Some hippos also bask on the shoreline and secrete oily red substances. Hippos do not have sweat glands.

So it is considered that in scorching and humid climates, their blood mixes with sweat. This is considered to be a myth by some people. Research conducted in a zoo has said that the liquid is actually a skin moistener and sunblock that might be protecting against germs.

According to San Diego Zoo, mother hippos also feature a gestation period of about eight months, and only one baby calf is born at a time from a female hippo. The baby hippo or calf can be around 55-110 lb (25-50 kg) at birth in a zoo, under captivity.

The typical habitat of a hippo is underwater and, they live that way for more than 16 hours a day and go to land only for eating. When it is sunset, hippopotamuses leave the water and move to the ground to graze or eat food. Hippos travel 6 mi (9.6 km) on average at night time, along single-file pathways.

One more notable fact about hippos is that if they get threatened on land by any human, they will charge on them, and if other animals threaten them, they will run for the lake around them. Hippos are more assertive and aggressive in water than on land.

To do this, they can even attain a speed of more than 18.6 mph (30 kph), which is obviously more than any human being.

Learn more interesting and unique facts about how fast a hippo can run and what is a group of hippos called here at Kidadl.

Are the hippopotamuses actually swimming?

The hippopotamus does not swim in the water. They sink their body into water bodies. After this, they drop their body down to the ground surface below the water, then they run along the bottom.

They are known to survive mostly in the water compared to land. If you compare the average body weight of a hippo with the composition of any other aquatic animal, you'll find that hippos are unique in their ability to survive primarily in water bodies.

Hippos can't really swim. They rather drown their bodies and make the water their prime habitat.

They adopt the locomotion style of swimming deep down in the water. The hippopotamus has high bone density and body weight, and some other factors balance their body weight while sinking. This way, hippos swim or just walk underwater.

San Diego Zoo confirms that hippos can go without taking a breath for up to five minutes while submerged in deep water. A few minutes breathing at the surface allows them to stay under the aquatic body for a while.

Hippopotamuses can hold their breath long enough to move from one point to another very quickly. They sink in the deep water, and then they run over the ground. When it's time for the hippo to breathe, it comes back again to the surface and breathe.

How do they move through the water?

The hippopotamus has a unique skin type. Such skin type demands moisture during the dry season. They do not have sweat glands, so it is worth mentioning that hippos need to regulate their body temperature without the production of sweat.

This mammal cannot survive too long on the ground as its body begins to dehydrate and the likelihood of what is called 'blood sweat' increases. During most of their lifetime, a hippo has to submerge itself into water. Surveys have concluded that a hippo lives underwater for more than 16 hours a day.

They only move to the ground in search of food. Hippos swim or walk in the body of water, depending on the level of water. However, swimming cannot be really called swimming unless you actually swim. Instead, what they do can be called a gallop. So hippos, depending on the level of water, gallop or walk.

Geographical experts say that a hippo always maintains contact with the bottom and walks or bounces across the bottom using these contact points as a driver source.

Can hippos swim fast?

The hippopotamus can gain a speed of 4.9 mph (8 kph) while swimming. Even though they have a substantially weighted body (male hippos are even heavier than females), they can still attain this speed while swimming.

Male hippos always weigh more than females. Hippos are also fast runners on the ground and are faster than humans. A hippo can attain a speed of 18.6 mph (30 kph) on land.

Hippos are more dangerous in water than on land. They can attain the speed of human beings inland but only for a short period.

Hippos are semi-aquatic animals. That means they neither live on land completely nor do they live entirely inside water bodies. They settle more than half their bodies in water to adopt an aquatic lifestyle and stay that way for the most part.

It is complicated for hippos to swim underwater with an average weight that is more than the weights of 10 humans combined and no natural gills. Such amazing creatures do not live in any reservoir but only have slow locomotion under rivers and lakes.

How does a hippo swim so fast?

The hippopotamus was known as a river horse by the Greeks. They love water and spend most of their time below the water. Hippos manage to keep their body cool under the hot sun of Africa. They are graceful in the water, good swimmers. However, a hippo technically cannot swim. They gallop in water.

Hippos do not have natural gills to breathe when in a water body. They sink their heavy-weighted bodies at the bottom of the river, and they either run or walk. Hippos maintain some contact points om the water and push forward with the help of those contact points.

Since a hippo cannot actually swim, it runs or gallops at water level. This is why they attain such speed down the water. A hippo can swim at a speed of 4.9-6.2 mph (8-10 kph) which, is an excellent speed in water.

This semi-aquatic animal typically goes to rivers where it can easily touch the ground level of water bodies while staying half submerged. Adult hippos do not eat fish, they generally eat grass.

Hippos rapidly move their tails back and forth and scatter their droppings around. This is how they claim their territory. Be it their water territory or land, these steps are followed.

Can hippos drown in deep water?

Although hippos have a heavyweight body, their heavy bone structure still helps their body stay up at the water surface level.

The bone structure evaluates hippos' body weight and helps in balanced walking underwater. So it is clear that despite the heavy bodyweight of hippos, they do not drown underwater. Instead, they can even move from one place to another.

They can hold their breath for more than five minutes underwater. And since it has been concluded before that a hippo cannot swim, it walks below the water on the ground.

They have to sink their body to the ground level of the river or lake, wherever they are, and then they run below on the ground of the river bed. When they need to breathe, hippos float back to the exterior level of the water. They breathe, and again they sink into the water to move.

So by this, it is clear that this species can sink, but at the same time, they can hover back to the surface and stay partially submerged.

How do hippos swim underwater?

Another amazing fact about the hippopotamus is it can see underwater. It's fascinating how their eyes are covered with a pair of transparent membranes that help them see when their heavy bodies are underwater.

These two membranes are naturally built-in membranes, and they appear in front of their eyes like goggles so that their eyes do not get irritated by the water when they swim underwater. This pair of transparent membranes allows them to see underwater, by which they can swim and even sleep partially submerged underwater.

After all this, swimming underwater for hippos is still tricky because they need to close their nostrils and ears underwater. A hippopotamus needs to do this to keep from drowning. They need to prevent water from entering into their ears. Although they can easily watch and observe everything going underneath the water clearly due to their natural goggles.

Hippopotamus animals are semi-aquatic animals. So waterbodies can be considered as a significant part of their living. They are found only in places where there is a dry-wet season.

One more fascinating fact about hippos is they do not have sweat glands. That is, they do not sweat, and the body remains highly heated. If they do not dwell in water bodies, their body can overheat and this can become dangerous for their life.

Indeed hippos graze often for food. They store enough food in their stomach for days to avoid leaving river bodies. Water bodies are a necessity for hippo life.

Did you know?

There are too many fascinating facts about hippos. Here are a few more!

Some hippos once moved into the Colombia waterways, and they multiplied there. Their young population increased from 40-60. But young hippos often used to trample crops and charge at humans. That is why their invasive population poses a threat to the community, and they were returned to their proper habitat.

A hippopotamus can be more aggressive in water than on the ground. They are violent creatures and known to be extremely deadly mammals.

Through a survey, a hippo attack kills an estimated 500 people in Africa every year. The factor that makes a hippo most dangerous is its teeth. Although they have a huge body size, their sharp teeth make them the most deadly.

The international ban over the trade of elephant ivory triggered an increase of 530% in the annual hippo teeth exports within only two years. A hippo canine measures more than 19.6 in (50 cm) in length.

Hippopotamuses are primarily found in the rivers and lakes of Sub-Saharan Africa and, they also sleep down there. The complex creatures of water are called horses because their survival is unique and in submergence. They are known as 'river horse' in Greek. However, you cannot compare an adult hippo with a horse regarding weight, body composition, and lifestyle.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for can hippos swim, why not take a look at hippos omnivores or hippo facts.

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Written by Ayan Banerjee

Bachelor of Science specializing in Nautical Science

Ayan Banerjee picture

Ayan BanerjeeBachelor of Science specializing in Nautical Science

Thanks to his degree in nautical science from T.S. Chanakya, IMU Navi Mumbai Campus, Ayan excels at producing high-quality content across a range of genres, with a strong foundation in technical writing. Ayan's contributions as an esteemed member of the editorial board of The Indian Cadet magazine and a valued member of the Chanakya Literary Committee showcase his writing skills. In his free time, Ayan stays active through sports such as badminton, table tennis, trekking, and running marathons. His passion for travel and music also inspire his writing, providing valuable insights.

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