Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

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


  • 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


  • 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)

SDZWA Library Links