Hippo Adaptations: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Hippos have different adaptations that let them live in the water and on land. This lesson will teach you about some of these adaptations and how they help hippos in their natural habitat.

Hippo Habitat

Imagine standing near an African river watching eyes and ears moving in the water. When the sun sets, these large, plump animals get out of the river. Though they don't look very fast, it's a good idea to give them space because you're watching hippos and they're dangerous.

Lakes and rivers are a part of a hippo's natural habitat so they have different adaptations that let them hang out and move around in the water, as well as on land when they come up to graze.

Fantastic Feet

Your feet are made for dry land but a hippo has feet that are useful in the water and on land. They have partly webbed feet, which helps them cruise around in the water. On each foot they have four toes that also fan out a little, which helps spread their weight more evenly and helps them walk on the soft dirt in river bottoms and on land.

Eyes on Top

Hippos live in a hot climate and spend a lot of time in the water to keep their skin wet and cool, the way you like to go swimming on a summer day. But if you want to hang out in the pool for a long time, you have to keep most of your head out of the water so you can see, hear and breathe.

Hippo head above water
Hippo head above water

However, hippos don't have this problem because their eyes, ears and nose are on top of their head! They're like nature's submarines and can stay mostly under water and still breathe, see and hear.

Going Under

Although hippos spend a lot of time with just the tops of their heads poking out of the water, they can go underwater and can hold their breath for about five minutes at a time. Their nose holes automatically close, the way you pinch your nose so no water gets in.

Hippos underwater
Hippos underwater

And they can even snooze underwater! Hippos automatically pop up to the surface so they can breathe every few minutes before plunging back down without even waking up.

But their nose isn't their only cool underwater adaptation. They also have a clear layer of skin that covers their eyes like a swimming mask. This protects their eyes while they are under the water's surface, but they can still see.

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