Hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) are the second largest terrestrial mammals, weighing up to 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds), with barrel shaped bodies and short legs. Their heads are adapted for life in water with eyes, ears and nose all on the upper side. Hippo jaws can open up to 150 degrees wide, which makes a very impressive sight when this is all that can be seen of the semi-submerged animal.
Hippos live in still or slow-running water with frequent bends in the shoreline and deep pools with shallow sided banks, in the midst of open wooded or bushed grassland. The preferred water temperature is 18 C to 35 C (64 F to 95 F) and they have been seen along the sea coast. In the rainy season, males may take up temporary residence in seasonal water holes.
Hippos spend the whole day in water, totally or partially submerged, floating beneath the surface and bouncing from the bottom to come up to breath every few minutes. Dives generally last less than five minutes but can be as long as 15. Hippos come out of the water only at night to feed on the shore.
They have a variety of vocalizations, among them the dominant male’s: “MUH-Muh-muh”; bellows and roars when fighting; a high-pitched “neighing” when attacked and a sort of snort when submerged.
Man is the hippo’s only real threat although a pride of lions will attack a solitary hippo on land, and crocodiles undoubtedly take the occasional baby hippo in the water. Females defend their young by making use of their long tusks (canines).
Despite their benign look, hippos account annually for more wildlife-induced human deaths than any other animal, including lions and snakes. They specialize in capsizing boats which get too near, either drowning or biting the people inside. Hippos are also dangerous on land since they will run over anybody standing in their way to the water.
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