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White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Attribute Male Female
Body Weight c. 2,300 kg (5,100 lb) c. 1,800 kg (4,000 lb)
Head and Body Length 360-420 cm (12-14 ft) 360-420 cm (12-14 ft)
Tail Length 80-100 cm (3 ft) 80-100 cm (3 ft)
Shoulder Height 170-185 cm (5.6-6.10 ft) 170-185 cm (5.6-6.10 ft)

General Appearance

Body Shape

  • 2nd largest land mammal
    • c. the same color as the black rhino
    • Only surpassed in size by elephant
  • Heavy, stocky body
  • Short neck
  • Large head
  • Limbs and feet
    • Three hoofed toes
      • Central toe is largest; supports most of the body weight
  • Horns
    • 2 horns
      • Positioned on the rostrum
      • One in front of the other
    • Structure
      • Composed of keratin (not true horns)
      • No bony core; not attached to skull; not shed
    • Grow continually throughout life

Adult pelage

  • Almost hairless
    • Hair fringes on the ears and tip of the tail
  • Skin gray and exposed
    • Very thick with deep folds

Differences between white and black rhinos

AttributeWhite RhinoBlack Rhino
Relative Size Larger; largest extant species of rhino. Smaller
Highest Point Crests of dorsal vertebrae on the saddle area of the back
Location farther back, towards the pelvis
Forehead Long Short
Upper Lip Broad, flat Pointed, prehensile
Hump Flexible neck; large bulge (nuchal hump) visible on dorsal side of the neck. No nuchal hump
Resting Posture Tend to hold the head low during rest Hold head up during rest
Anterior (front) Horn Leading edge at base tends to be straight Leading edge at base more rounded
Hoof Tracks Tracks longer; outer toes more separated from center; prominent notch along back edge Tracks less elongate, no back edge notch

Sexual Dimorphism

Minimal dimorphism

  • Appearance of male and female similar
    • Males tend to be larger and may have shorter, thicker horns
    • Some females have forward pointing horns
  • Male genital characteristics
    • Backward facing genitalia (as in hippo)
    • Lack scrotum; testes abdominal
  • Female characteristics
    • 2 teats

Other Characteristics

Sensory systems

  • Vision
    • Poor eyesight
    • Discern a moving object more easily than a stationary one
    • Very little overlap in field of vision of the two eyes
      • Limits forward, 3 dimensional view
  • Smell
    • Good sense of smell
  • Hearing
    • Good sense of hearing

Northern White Rhinoeros

White Rhino and a water hole

White rhinos are stocky and nearly hairless. The most noticeable hair fringes the ears and tips the tail. Their broad flat upper lip is specialized to help secure grass, unlike the prehensile lip of the black rhino.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Kingdon (1997)
Owen-Smith (1973)
Schenkel (1990)

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