Hippos naturally producing pink milk? Sounds pretty amazing! Sadly, it's false. Here's where the story came from. And the real facts about hippo milk. Plus learn what this “blood sweat” does to help the hippo. And how researchers are trying to make a better sunblock through biomimicry.
Is Pink Hippo Milk a Thing?
No. There is no evidence to back up the claim that hippos have pink milk.
This commonly believed “fact” is actually a debunked legend. It seems that even National Geographic got this wrong back in 2013, posting this on Facebook: “Friday Fact: A hippo's milk is bright pink”. Whoops!
It seems that this false claim is based on two actual facts.
- Hippopotamus produce two secretions: one red (hipposudoric acid) and one orange (norhipposudoric acid).
- Hippo milk is white.
In theory, when the hipposudoric acid (red) mixes with the milk (white), it produces a pink solution. But there is actually no evidence to suggest that this ever happens.
According to David Wynick (Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol, and Consultant Physician at the Bristol Royal Infirmary), there is no evidence of this happening.
Here's what he had to say on Ask a Biologist:
“I think this is an Internet legend that is oft repeated but without any evidence for it that I can find.
It is true that hippos secrete a red pigment in their sweat that acts as a natural suntan lotion, but nowhere can i find evidence it is secreted in breast milk and thus turns it pink. Further, since the pigment is acidic I would guess that would not combine well with the milk.”
So not only does it not happen, even if it did, the acidic pigment probably wouldn't play nice with the milk.
What Color is Hippo Milk?
So if it isn't pink, what color is hippo milk? Hippos produce a white or off-white milk (like all mammals).
I guess this shouldn't surprise us: milk is white.
Where Did the Pink Milk Idea Come From?
It can be hard to track the origin of an incorrect idea. But it seems that we have found the source of the image often attributed to the pink hippo milk.
Veggie Wedgie published a photo of “Strawberry Unmilkshakable” (a rather tasty looking dairy-free strawberry milkshake). See this post on Wayback Machine. This photo then made the rounds online and was given as proof of pink milk.
Learn more about hippos in our colossal guide: 57 Huge Hippo Facts.
What is Hippo Blood Sweat?
First of all, the “blood sweat” is neither blood nor sweat.
There are two distinct pigments in the secretion: one red (hipposudoric acid) and one orange (norhipposudoric acid). When this secretion first appears, it is colorless. Under the sun, it turns reddish-orange in minutes and then later turns brown.
What Does the Hippo Secretion Do?
According to the University of Melbourne, hippos skin secretion has four functions. They include:
- Skin moisturizer. While this is an effective moisturizer, their skin will still crack if they stay out of the water for too long.
- Insect repellent.
- Antibiotic, inhibiting growth of specific bacteria.
- Sunscreen. The pigments that make it pinkish-red are capable of absorbing UV light.
Biomimicry: Learning from Hippo Sweat
Is there potential to reverse engineer this substance for our use? According to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A there are investigations into the structure biomimicry of this secretion.
Maybe in the future, we'll be slathering on pink hippo sweat instead of white sunblock?
So, is that it? No pink hippo milk? Not so fast!
Here's how to make a healthy – and actually pink – hippo milk at home. (No, it isn't really hippo milk, it's actually almond milk with natural coloring.)
How to Make Pink “Hippo Milk”
By blending a beet into your almond milk you can turn the naturally off-white color into a vibrant Barbie-pink. Worthy of any hippo milk believers.
You can either make your almond milk from scratch (2 cups of almonds with 6 cups of water) or just buy your milk and blend in the beet. Add some sweetener (dates, sugar, or honey) and a pinch of salt. Check the full recipe.
Watch on YouTube
Don't let this pink milk disappointment keep you from visiting East Africa. There are lots of amazing animals that have actual, weird features and habits.
And there you have it. Pink hippo milk isn't actually a thing. The pink secretion is super useful for the hippos, but doesn't tint the milk – sorry internet.
If you really want pink milk, you can make your own non-hippo version at home with a beet – and no weird stomach wrenching bacteria that the actual hippo milk would contain.
Have a fact or question to add? Join me below!