Do Hippos Have Tails? Are They Bulletproof? (+ more)

When told to picture a hippo you will likely imagine a round-ish body and head, tiny, equally round ears, four stumpy legs, and… a tail? Or not? In their general roundness, the question of how they look from behind gets easily overlooked.

Do hippos have tails? Yes! Compared to the generally large and rotund shape of a hippopotamus, the size of the tail is quite small, so it is not so obvious, but this appendage even plays an important role in the life of a hippo. When defecating they start rotating their tail to spray their poop all over the place. You need to be ten meters or more away from the hippo to not be hit by this literal shit storm. 

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The reason why they do this is to mark their territory, the same reason why dogs pee at trees and lamp posts and cats rub their faces at things, but the hippo method is slightly more spectacular, of course.

Are They Bulletproof
Are They Bulletproof?

While it is mostly the male hippo that marks his territory in this way, female hippos use feces as a love language and show affection by pooping close to the head of their desired male.

Baby hippos also have to eat their mother’s feces in order to attain the gut bacteria necessary for digestion. All in all, poop plays a big role in the existence of a hippo, which is not without its drawbacks – not for the hippos themselves, but for their environment.

Since hippos like to spend time inside or close to water, a lot of their feces end up in rivers. So much, that there is a big problem of hippo poop pollution in African rivers which kills off fish and other aquatic life forms. 

Hippos weigh 3,000 pounds on average and consume 100 pounds of plants on a daily basis, which results in a lot of fecal matter. For millennia, this was not a problem, and the rich hippo dung used to be a kind of natural fertilizer for organisms in and around water since the terrestrial organic matter that the hippos consumed was transported into water. The collaborative problems of human activity and climate change altered this, though.

Decreased rainfalls, as well as agricultural activities in need of a lot of water, lead to lots of rivers partially drying up. This means that instead of one river that has a strong enough current to diffuse the poop, the dung just sits in stagnant pools during the dry season. This leads to a decrease in the oxygen concentration of the water down to a level that is deadly to most species of fish. Among those fish that cannot live in these high-density hippo dung pools are Tilapia, which are very commonly consumed fish throughout all of Africa. 

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Do Hippos Have Webbed Feet? 

Yes, they do! Another physical feature that feels unexpected and out of place in these animals that are often considered of a similar category to elephants and rhinoceroses – the trinity of big, gray mammals – are their webbed toes. To be specific, all of these three animals have hooves, like deer.

Hooves are nails that completely cover the toe digit. Animals can have just one hoof, like a horse, two hooves, like deer, or more. Rhinoceroses have three hooves and both elephants and hippos have four hooves. In the case of hippos, these are connected by tissue, like you would, for example, expect from a frog.

Their webbed feet help them to glide smoothly through the water – even though, contrary to what most people think, do not actually swim, hippos are perfectly adapted to spend a long time in the water. They have very dense bones that allow them to sink to the bed of a river.


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When they submerge themselves, their nostrils and ears close up so no water can get inside. Their eyes are protected by a clear membrane as if they were wearing goggles. Then they just have to push themselves gently with their webbed feet and can happily glide along.

Underwater, they are very talkative and produce sounds that are very similar to whale sounds. No surprise here, since hippos and whales are very closely related even though they do not look like it at the first glance! 

Do Hippos Sleep Underwater?

Hippos are the third-largest living land mammals, being only smaller than elephants and some rhinos and they need to resurface to breathe every three to five minutes. So how do hippos sleep underwater then? They do it by subconsciously rising out of the water and taking in air without waking up. It is a natural reflex for them.

Hippos don’t have any natural predators that can take them down, except for a group of lions. But what about the predator – human?

Are Hippos Bulletproof?

Hippos have unique skin that is 2 inches or 5 centimeters thick and needs to be kept constantly wet. Staying out of the water for too long can lead to dehydration, so hippos try to remain in the water during the day.

But is their 2-inch skin thick enough to stop a bullet? Is their skin bulletproof? The answer is no, they are not bulletproof. They are being hunted and hunters just use bigger caliber rifles to kill them. It is all about the right bullet placement. You will not just randomly shoot in a general direction of a hippo or any other animal for that matter.

Most of the hunters want to kill the animal as efficiently as possible to reduce their suffering but also preserving their meat and/or skin/fur.

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Hippos vs Humans & Hippo Kill Count

They can weigh up to 10,000 lb or half a metric tonne and gallop up to 30 km/h (19 mph); hippos are a force to be reckoned with.

Hippos are aggressive animals that kill an estimated 500 people in Africa and are in fact the world’s deadliest large land mammal. A single hippo capsized a boat in Niger in 2014 that killed 13 people. If that won’t have you looking over your shoulder during a boat ride, I don’t know what will.

How do hippos kill so many humans? Mostly by capsizing boats by chasing them or coming out of nowhere. But also, when people go to get their water from river banks in the morning, hippos will trample them when they are returning back to the water from grazing.

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Do hippos eat people? Hippos are mostly herbivorous animals and their diet in nature consists almost entirely of grass. Even if a hippo killed a person, they would probably not eat the body.

How Do Hippos Swim So Fast?

Actually, hippos cannot swim at all. Their top speed on land is up to 20 mph and they use that speed to hop on the riverbed instead of swimming. Just by pushing lightly of the riverbed, they can produce great speeds underwater. Here are amazing ways that some other marine animals sleep underwater: