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Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

AttributeBlack Rhino
Body Weight 1,000 - 1,800 kg (2200 - 3970 lbs)
Body Length 2.9 - 3.75 m (114-148 in)
Tail Length 60 - 70 cm (24 - 28 in)
Shoulder Height 1.4 - 1.8 m (55 - 71 in)

General Appearance

Body shape

  • Heavy, stocky body
  • Short neck
  • Large head
  • Limbs and feet
    • Three, hoofed toes
      • Central toe is largest; supports most of the body weight
  • Tail
    • Small
    • Tuft of hair at the tip
  • Horns
    • 2 horns
      • Positioned on the rostrum
      • One in front of the other.
    • Structure
      • Composed of keratin (like true horns)
      • No bony core; not attached to skull; not shed
    • Grow continually throughout life

Facial characteristics

  • Teeth
    • Large
    • Robust cheek teeth
    • No canines or incisors

Adult pelage

  • Almost hairless
  • Skin grey and exposed
    • Deeply folded
    • Color often obscured by dirt due to wallowing in mud or dust

Rhinoceros species features

  • Largest and smallest species
    • Largest - white rhinoceros
    • Smallest - Sumatran rhinoceros

Comparison with other rhinos

  • Black rhinoceros
    • 2 horns
    • Skin hairless
    • No incisors and  low-crowned molars
    • Upper lip triangular-shaped and prehensile
  • White rhinoceros
    • 2 horns
    • Skin hairless
    • No incisors and high crowned molars
    • Upper lip square shaped and not prehensile
    • Large hump behind head
  • Indian rhinoceros
    • 1 horn
    • Skin hairless
    • Tusk-like lower incisors and high crowned molars
    • Prehensile upper lip
    • Skin forms heavy folds, like armor plating
    • Posterior of neck plate continuous with body
    • Large bumps on skin of shoulder, upper arms and upper legs
  • Javan rhinoceros
    • 1 horn
      • Reduced to a horny knob in female
    • Skin hairless
    • Tusk-like lower incisors and low-crowned molars
    • Prehensile upper lip
    • Skin forms heavy folds, like armor plating
    • Posterior of neck plate separated from body
    • Skin with mosaic-like pattern rather than large bumps
  • Sumatran rhinoceros
    • 2 horns
      • Very small in the female
    • Skin hairy
    • Lower incisors present but not tusk-like
    • Prehensile upper lip
    • Skin fold forming only a few divisions
      • No folds near nose

Subspecific characteristics

  • D. b. michaeli
    • Horns longer, thinner, and more curved
    • More aggressive than other subspecies
  • D. b. bicornis
    • Larger in size
    • Horns straighter
    • Adapted to a more arid habitat

Sexual Dimorphism

Minimal dimorphism

  • Appearance of male and female similar
    • It can be difficult to tell males from females
  • Differences more apparent with age
    • Older females have more of a sway-back
      • Presumably due to carrying heavy calves during various pregnancies
  • Male genital characteristics
    • Backward facing genitalia (as in hippo)
    • Lack a scrotum; testes abdominal
  • Female characteristics
    • 2 teats

Other Characteristics

Sensory Systems

  • Vision
    • Poor eyesight
  • Smell
    • Good sense of smell
  • Hearing
    • Good sense of hearing

Black Rhino

Black Rhino resting on grass

Black Rhinoceros at the Chester Zoo.

Image credit: © Nigel Swales from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Emslie & Brooks (1999)
Kingdon (1997)

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