How Do Hippos Communicate?

The hippopotamus, often known as the hippo or water horse, is a hoofed amphibian mammal originating in Africa. The hippopotamus, usually regarded as the second-largest land animal after the elephant, is similar in size and weight to the white Indian rhinoceros. The hippopotamus is a Greek word meaning “river horse,” and it has been around for a very long time.

You can frequently observe hippopotamuses lounging on the riverbanks, lakes, and swamps near grasslands or napping in the water. Hippos are safe from most predators due to their large size and underwater habits. However, they are not entirely safe from humans, who have constantly desired their skin, flesh, and tusks and have disliked them for destroying crops.

Few creatures are as easily identified as the hippopotamus, with its unique-shaped body, large, a yawning mouth, and tiny, flexible ears. You can usually find these massive herbivores in Africa. The bodies of these hippopotamuses are designed to adapt to an underwater environment. The nostrils on the tip of a hippo’s snout snap shut as soon as it comes into contact with water, and its skin works as a diving suit, keeping the hippo warm and heated underwater and cold on land.

Hippos in Groups

three hippos submerged in water

Hippos have a free and uncontrolled social structure. They cluster in big pods of both sexes of different ages throughout the day. The suitability of the environment determines the size of the group. Hippos enjoy soft-moving water that is big enough to submerge their bodies which measures five to six feet deep in sandy, open seashores.

They go for environments that can support groups of up to 200 hippopotamuses. Hippos that isolate themselves are usually females about to give birth or old male hippos. Usually, hippos congregate in nursery schools which consists of female hippos and calves, or in bachelor groups. These restrictions, however, are flexible, and persons of any gender or age may join the group.

These clusters disperse in the evening to feed themselves. Adult male hippos, also known as bulls, protect territory in which they are the leading member. Size is used to determine hippo supremacy. Bulls use their urine and dung, which they toss extraordinary lengths using their tails, to indicate and defend their territory, 

Whenever a male hippo crosses another male’s area, unless he plans to attack him, he remains docile to that male. Males scrape their fangs along each other’s sides when fighting over territory. Despite the hippos’ thick skin, these conflicts can result in significant harm or perhaps even death.

And, yes, hippos make noises. A hippo sounds like a hippo and nothing else. Some people associate their ‘honking’ with the sound of deep giggling.  And, you will notice that some of their sounds are identical to that of dolphins!

Hippos’ vocalizations are pretty distinct, and they generate a wide range of sounds. Hippos emit grunting, groaning, growling, roaring, and harsh wheezing sounds. They produce chuffing noises as well. Furthermore, hippopotamuses converse with one another, and they loudly do so.

How do Hippos communicate?

hippo with jaw immersed underwater

Unlike many other species, hippopotamuses can converse with other members of their kind both above and below the water. Approximately 80% of hippo communication occurs beneath the water’s surface. These noises travel much farther and broader, conveying vital information, such as where to see all the other Hippos and where territorial borders begin and end.

Hippos communicate by voice and body language. For starters, hippopotamuses use their vocal cords to communicate almost the same way as humans do. Because hippos’ jaws are normally immersed underwater, the sound is released from their noses, which usually are just peeking up. These aquatic noises are comparable to those complex animal languages emitted by dolphins, which are, believe it or not, a remote relative of hippopotamuses.

Hippos produce sound on land and also in the water. The sound waves move like the usual sound waves, and other hippopotamuses on the water may receive them. These honking sounds can be detected for at least 1.6 kilometers away and can reach around 115 decibels, equivalent to the level of strong thunder. 

Hippos produce a variety of underwater noises, including grunts, screeches, croaks, and whimpers, the meaning of which is unknown. The most well-known technique of hippo communication is to extend their jaws in extremely huge “yawns,” which could signify enthusiasm.

Hippos are capable of communicating both above and below the water’s surface. This sound, unfortunately, would not move from the air to the sea. Sound waves aren’t able to switch mediums from air to sea or from sea to air. But how do these huge creatures communicate while underwater? 

Hippos have a lot of fat surrounding their neck and vocal cords. Fat has nearly the identical density as with liquid. When hippopotamuses are vocalizing, the vibrations they produce travel through the layers of fat in their necks then out into the waters.

In reality, it’s a little harder to understand these sounds. Beyond water, hippos can hear regularly and accurately, regardless of how far the sounds and noises move in the air. As has always been the case, being underwater creates additional challenges. 

Hippos seal their outer ears whenever they’re swimming underwater, making it impossible for them to hear these sounds using their ears. As a result, hippos use their jaws when listening to these sounds underwater. 

As their ears stay on the surface above, they hear these underwater chatterings with their jaws. Their jaws are linked to their middle ear, enabling vibration to go past their outer ear completely! This enables communication both the surface above and underwater.

Dialogue between hippopotamuses can reach vast distances, from one group to another in a series. Their screeches, grunts, and howls, among other things, express authority and hold territory.

These various types of noises can be extremely loud since big groups of hippos make noises simultaneously. It can exceed noise levels of up to 115 decibels, roughly as deafening as a packed rock concert and can be heard even from several kilometers away.

Soft Hippo Sounds

yawning hippo

Although certain hippo sounds are deafeningly loud, others may be entirely impossible to hear for humans. Sometimes, their communication occurs at extremely low frequencies, generally described as infrasound. These noises are so soft that they are beyond the audible range for humans.