The Hippopotamus

Which animal gets its name from the Greek words that mean "river horse?"

And the answer: hippopotamus.    

The word hippopotamus comes from two Greek words that translate to "river horse," and for good reason: Hippos love water! To keep their bodies cool under the hot African sun, they spend most of their day submerged in rivers and lakes. They're excellent swimmers and can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes.

Photo credit: Facts.net.

Hippos are some of the most peculiar and powerful animals in Africa. These adorable but fearsome creatures are equipped with canine and incisor teeth that grow continuously, sometimes reaching up to 20 inches in length. Meanwhile, the massive creatures are adapted to semi-aquatic environments, allowing them to move swiftly on land and through water. While they bask on the shoreline, their skin secretes an oily red substance that is sometimes mistaken for blood. In reality, evolution has equipped hippos with a skin moistener and sunblock that may also provide protection against germs.

Hippos tend to stick to the shallows during the daytime, but come night, they roam freely on land. Taking advantage of the cool night air, hippos can consume a whopping 88 pounds of vegetation in a single night, sometimes traveling up to 6 miles to do so.

Interestingly, hippos' closest living relative is the whale. Although their name means "river horse," and their body resembles something of a pig's, molecular phylogeny reveals a closer link to ocean-dwelling giants. A 2005 Berkeley study claims that the two share a common, water-loving ancestor millions of years ago.

Learn more about hippopotamuses (hippopotami?) here.


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