Hippopotami are huge, strong, and very loud animals! What sound does a hippo make? They make a variety of noises and sounds – both above and underwater.
Beyond the stomping and splashing noises they make as they move around their 3,300+ pound (1,500 kilograms) bodies, they also make a variety of vocalizations. In this article, you will learn about their honks, roars, and even clicks. We’ll also talk about how hippos use body language to communicate. And you won’t want to miss the section on amphibious communication (it’s super cool)!
What Does a Hippo Sound Like?
A hippo makes a number of different vocalizations. Among these sounds are honks, grunts, roars, squeals, and what can be described as wheezing. A hippo’s honk sounds like the laughter of someone with a deep voice. A male may honk to assert his dominance.
Hippos can also roar, especially when they want something. Check out the video below to hear a hungry, or in this case “hangry,” hippo roaring.
In addition to roaring, an angry hippo may also grunt and exhale in a huff.
What Does a Baby Hippo Sound Like?
Baby hippos make low grunting noises. To listen to a baby hippo, watch the short and adorable video below.
How Loud are Hippopotami?
A herd of honking and grunting hippos can be as loud as 115 decibels and heard up to a mile (1.6 kilometers away).
The intensity of the sound can be compared to a loud rock concert or a nearby thunderstorm.
Amphibious Communication (Underwater Sounds)
As semi-aquatic creatures, hippos spend their days going in and out of the water. When they are warm, they stand in the riverbed to cool off. When they get too cold, they go back to the shore to bask in the sun.
While in the river, hippos will keep their eyes, ears, and nostrils above water. Their mouths will be fully submerged.
While they cannot breathe under the water, that doesn’t stop them from underwater communication. It has been said that up to 80 percent of hippo communication happens underwater.
But what is really cool is that hippos can communicate through the water and the air at the same time.
Hippos use their ears to pick up sounds traveling through the air.
But how do they “hear” underwater? A hippo makes a clicking sound that is very similar to the clicks that dolphins use for echolocation. The vibration from these clicks travels through the water and resonates in a hippo’s jaw bone.
What is the Purpose of Underwater Communication? 3 Sounds
There are actually three different sounds that hippos produce while underwater.
- One of those is the click.
- The other is a tonal whine that seems to be associated with submissive behavior.
- The other is a pulsed croak that young hippos make when they are interacting with each other.
Since hippos can be so vocal, why do they need underwater communication? The answer is, we don’t really know.
Early research suggests that it may just be an additional way to communicate, as they spend so much time in the water. Another study, published in 2018, seems to indicate that hippos use these sounds for the echolocation of objects in murky water.
Learn more about hippos: 57 Huge Hippo Facts
Body Language and Non-Vocal Communication
Hippos are not only masters of amphibious communication, they also know how to get their point across using body language. The most well-known example of this is their giant yawn.
A hippo can open its mouth 150 degrees. While it may appear that this massive beast is sleepy, often what it is doing is giving a display of its strong teeth. Hippo teeth can grow up to 20 inches long (50 centimeters).
And their jaw is strong enough to break a crocodile’s back in a single chomp. So if you see a hippopotamus yawning, stay away!
Other non-vocal communication includes rearing up on its legs, lunging, charging, and jaw clashing. An angry hippo may also scoop water with its mouth and shake its head.
On the other hand, a male hippo may display submissive behavior when around the dominant male.
One example of this is walking with his head bowed low. A hippo can also “lay prone” with his body low and his face down. This can diffuse the situation around an irate male or a heated female.
Hippo Mating Displays
Mating is another area where physical communication plays a role. The male may use some vocalizations such as honking or wheezing. But the seduction of the female depends more on the mating display as opposed to the mating call.
And what an odd mating display it is. The male will get close to the female. Then he will urinate and defecate simultaneously, waving his tail in such a way so as to spread it all around. If the female is interested, she may also flick her bodily waste around. How romantic?
More reading: Is Hippo Milk Really Pink?
Have you ever heard a hippo make noise? What is your favorite hippo sound? Join the conversation in the comments below.