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Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) & Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choerpsis liberiensis) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet

  • Common Hippos: Mostly a grazing lifestyle, but browse may be included in diet
    • Pygmy Hippos eat more browse.
  • Pygmy Hippos consume little grass; main food items are leaves and roots of forest plants, fruits, ferns
    • Higher quality diet than that of Common Hippo
  • Both Common and Pygmy Hippos are absolutely dependent on vegetation near permanent rivers and streams
  • Common Hippo carnivory (both scavenging and predation) observed in a drought year in southern Africa. (Dudley 1996)
  • Over the last 10 million years hippo diets have been similar to that of modern hippos (grazing with some browse)
    • Oxygen and carbon isotopes in fossil enamel and bone yield data indicating diet and habitat

Feeding

  • Always graze and forage on land; consume few, if any, aquatic plants
    • Spend day in water, night on land grazing 5-6 hours.
    • Usually remain close (1-3 km or .6-1.9 mi) to home watercourse during nighttime feeding
  • "Hippo lawns" created where grasses kept short by continued grazing
    • Grass is grasped with horny lips (up to 20 inches wide in male) and torn off as hippo moves its head from side to side.
    • Weakly rooted grasses are eliminated from the grazing areas with this action
    • Coarse, tussock-forming grass species not eaten
    • Short creeping grass species preferred that can be grasped with lips
    • Plant species in diet include: Cynodon, Panicum, Heteropogon, Sporobolus, Themeda, Cynodon, Digitaria,
      Eriochloa, Tragus, Brachiaria, Urochloa, Chloris, Setaria, Cyperus.
  • Unlike many artiodactyls, hippos don't ruminate
    • Food is coarsely ground by back molars; front teeth not used in feeding
    • Have a multi- chambered stomach where carbohydrates are fermented; two day's worth of grasses can be held at one time
    • Intestines extremely long (much longer than other grass eaters)
    • Slow rate of digestion derives maximum benefit from a nutrient poor diet of grasses and dry forage
  • Low metabolic rate allows survival for many weeks without food
  • Eat approximately 1-1.5 % of body weight per day
    • At least 2.5% of body weight for many other ungulates such as cattle, white rhinos
    • Adult hippo consumes 25-40 kg (55-88 lbs) vegetation/day

Page Citations

Eltringham (1999)
Jablonski (2004)
Kingdon (1979)
Laws (1968)
Novak (1991)
O'Connor & Campbell (1986)

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