Hippo Teeth: What Are They Made Of And Why Are They So Weird?

Ritwik Bhuyan
Mar 07, 2023 By Ritwik Bhuyan
Originally Published on Nov 15, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
Hippo with a wide open mouth.

Hippos have a very big mouth and a pair of huge incisors on each one of their jaws.

Hippos are mammals known to be herbivorous, grinding vegetation with their huge, flat molars present at the back of the mouth. In their big mouth, only a few teeth are visible with the curved lower canine teeth present at the other part of the jaw (canine teeth - the source of hippo ivory).

Hippos (Hippopotamus amphibious) are large mammals that love water and are round in shape.

This animal is native to Africa and, after white rhinos and elephants, is considered the third-largest living mammal on the planet. In the wild, the hippopotamus lives in areas of abundant water as the animal spends most of its time submerged in water to cool the body and keep it moist.

Hippos stay inside the water for almost 16 hours a day.

A hippopotamus is classified as a dangerous animal as it has a very invasive and unpredictable nature.

Sharp hippopotamus teeth give them extra protection when fighting off predators, but it also makes them a target because of their meat as well as their ivory canine teeth, meaning that they are often killed by humans for illegal poaching.

Adult hippos are known to have 36 teeth which include a canine, two incisors, three molars, as well as three premolars on both sides of the jaw (lower side).

The mouth of the hippo is quite large and the animals can easily open their mouth at about 180 degrees as the jaw of a hippo is driven by a developed digastric and a larger master.

Living in sub-Saharan Africa, adult hippopotamus can be dangerous as they can easily attack humans too.

The bite force of a female adult was calculated to be around 1,800 lb (900 kg), and the hippos continuously sharpen their teeth by grinding. The lower incisors as well as lower canines continue to grow and are enlarged, especially in males.

Canines and incisors are not used while eating food and only are used while fighting.

The average length of a hippopotamus is 10.8-16.5 ft (3.3-5 m) and weighs around 3,500-9,920 lb (1600-4500 kg, adult male) and 3000 lb (1400 kg, adult female). They have a height of 5.2 ft (62.4 cm).

The African hippo species have incisors that reach 1 ft 4 in (40 cm) in length and canines that reach 1 ft 8 in (50 cm) in length.

If you enjoyed this article, check out are hippos carnivores and elephant vs hippo here on Kidadl.

Do hippo teeth have ivory?

Adult hippos stay less on the land and more in water and these aggressive animals are an easy target for poachers as the hippos are killed for their tusks and hippo ivory.

Hippos have the habitat of land near water bodies and are frequently affected by illegal poaching. The large upper and lower canines are used as ivory after the hard and thick enamel layer is removed from the canines.

Hippo teeth are considered the hardest and most opaque among all the materials that have been used as substitutes for ivory. Hippo teeth rarely get the yellow color with age and are close grain. Elephant tusks have a layered ring structure which is clearly not present in hippo tusks.

What are hippos teeth used for?

The hippo ivory trade has reduced the population of the species a lot and the population of the hippos is near threatened now.

Hippo teeth are hard and easily carvable. In their wild habitat, hippos use their teeth to fight predators and protect themselves from threats. Their teeth are sharp and can easily hurt predators as well as humans. Although hippos won't fight you unless threatened, it is important to maintain a distance.

The nature of the hippo tusk is hard and it is mostly used in Asia to make artwork. It is traded both legally and illegally in some countries and mostly carved into figurines, sculptures, trinkets, and other ornaments.

In Hong Kong, most hippo teeth come from Tanzania and Uganda. A search for a way to mitigate this issue is being carried out as with the teeth, the population of hippos is also decreasing in nature. Conservation of the species in their natural habitat as well is necessary.

Why do hippos have big teeth?

Hippos have big teeth that they use to fend off predators.

Although they feed on the grass near water bodies, hippos have a fairly large body and very large teeth that they use for fighting off threats which also includes humans. Sometimes you may even see two adults fighting with the help of their teeth.

A young stuck in middle can get seriously hurt during these fights. The young might fall victim and can even lead to death.

Hippos' big teeth along with the meat are traded all over the world.

Why are hippo teeth so weird?

The teeth of a hippo are different as some teeth are there to defend themselves while the molars and premolars are similar to those in humans and used for eating.

The sharp incisor teeth and the canines are used to protect themselves from predators while the rest of the teeth are used to chew food. Once the molars of a hippo wear off, the hippo dies. It is quite symbolic and weird.

The Hippo's Teeth And Its Diet

Hippos are known for having large mouths that measure around 4 ft (1.2 m).

In each jaw of a hippopotamus, we can see a pair of incisors. Hippos have curved lower canines on the jaw's outer portion. These can grow very long as you can see in your local zoo.

Molars and premolars are present at the back of the mouth which are used to grind vegetation. The diet consists of fruits and grass which they feed on near water bodies. They may travel large distances in search of food.

How many teeth does a hippo have?

There are different categories of teeth inside a hippo's big mouth.

Hippos have around 38-44 teeth and the construction is similar to humans with four categories - molar, premolar, canines, and incisors. 28 of them are molars and premolars, while canines and incisors in front are used for defending against predators. A baby will have fewer teeth and as it grows up, the number also increases.

Conserving Hippos

Hundreds of hippopotamus are killed each year for their meat and teeth and the population is being depleted really fast.

The teeth are really precious and make for great ornaments and sculptures. But this does not mean that an animal needs to be killed to procure this beauty. There are other alternatives and conservation of hippos is necessary in the world to keep a balance in the ecosystem. Protected spaces need to be built to minimize human-hippo interaction.

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

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Written by Ritwik Bhuyan

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English

Ritwik Bhuyan picture

Ritwik BhuyanBachelor of Arts specializing in English

A skilled content writer, Ritwik holds a Bachelor's degree in English from Delhi University. He has refined his writing abilities through his past experience at PenVelope and his current role at Kidadl. In addition to his proficiency in writing, Ritwik has pursued his passion for flying by achieving CPL training and becoming a licensed commercial pilot. This diverse skill set highlights his commitment to exploring multiple fields. Ritwik's experience in the aviation industry has provided him with a unique perspective and attention to detail, which he brings to his writing.

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