Do You Know How Fast Can a Hippo Swim?

The third-largest mammal hippopotamuses are somehow different creatures and people have an interest in them for their mysterious nature. They are called River Horse in Greek. As a semi-aquatic mammal, the river horse lives most of the time in the reservoir. But there is an interesting thing about their staying underwater.

Some think that they can swim, and some think they cannot. We have tried to reveal the exact fact through this article. If you are curious about the lifestyle of river horses then you may find some interesting facts here. Let’s see what the mystery is and how fast a hippo can swim!

how fast can a hippo swim

Can hippopotamus really swim?

River horse stays almost 16 hours a day in the water. In a general sense, we can think that they can swim as they pass most of the time in the reservoir. But the thing is completely different.

Hippo walks underwater

A hippopotamus cannot swim because of its extremely large and heavy body. Its legs are short in size. But their extraordinary skeletal formation, graviportality helps to carry their heavy body and by the special gravity, they can sink or make their moves in the reservoir.

Hippos just walk or move under the river by touching the surface. It uses its buoyancy and bone density to make faster moves. The limb muscles of river horses can make speedy propulsion through waterbodies.

The moving speed of a hippo under water

Hippos can move 8 kilometers per hour underwater. They have no gills for breathing. But they can stay without breathing for five minutes. That means they have to come to the surface in the open air for breathing every five minutes. So, they jump from the bottom to up and take a breath, and then again sink for moving.

You may curious about how baby river horses move underwater! When a baby is born, it weighs between 55 and 100 pounds (23 & 45.35 kg). Mother gives birth to the baby under reservoir but they have to float on the reservoir for breathing.

At first, they don’t know how to move there. Mother river horse guides its baby and pushes it to the surface of the aqua to let them learn how to swim. A newborn baby can hold its first breath for 40 seconds and then the mother has to push it for taking a breath on the surface of the reservoir. After some days they can stay without breathing for 60 to 90 seconds and learn how to sink and move from their mother.

Male river horses have more weights than the female. Where a male hippo is more than 6000 pounds the female is around 3000 pounds. That means it’s almost double from the female. So, it can be said that female can move faster than the male.

Hippopotamus swimming underwater

The ways hippo use to swim so fast under water

By following hippo’s movements under reservoir it may seem that they are really good swimmers. But that’s not actually true.

Dagmar Andres- Bruemmer from Frankfurt Zoological Society said that depending on water level they can walk or swim. But they never swim. The technique they apply for moving is a kind of galloping.

Douglas McCauley, the Assistant Professor in the department of ecology, evolution, and marine biology at the University of California said that it almost always maintains some contact with the bottom and walks or bounces off the bottom using these bottom contact points as a source of propulsion.

Human Vs Hippopotamus – Who can swim faster?

As we have come to know that river horses cannot float but they can move into the reservoir by their own strategy, here we can compare the speed of a hippopotamus and a human underwater.

Where a river can walk 8 kilometers (5 miles) per hour, a swimmer with average skill can float and move approximately 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) per hour. The fastest swimmer Michael Phelps even got the highest speed 6 miles per hour. So, we can say undoubtedly that a river horse can outrun a human wherever it is on the land or beneath the reservoir.

Hippo swimming in the river

Is it possible for hippopotamus to swim in the ocean?

They just move faster on the ground beneath the reservoir. For this, they need to be denser than water. And hippo has exceptionally dense bones so that they can stay at the bottom.

Even they can touch the bottom of the sea if they are dropped there where seawater is almost 2.5 percent denser than normal water. That proves that though they are not supposed to sink in the sea for the density, they can do it because of their special buoyancy.

The fun fact is the buoyancy is always identical to the weight of the volume of water that the hippo dispossesses, it always remains the same whatever the depth is. So, if you drop a river horse in the sea it will touch the surface of the ocean.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can hippo breath under water?

Hippos are semi-aquatic mammals, and they have no gills. So, it is natural that they cannot breathe under a reservoir. But they can hold their breath for a long time so that they come back to the surface while they need to breathe again.

How can hippos hold their breath under water?

Hippos have lungs rather than gills or any other body parts by which they can breathe under the reservoir. But they can close their nostrils and hold their breath highest for five minutes underwater. But for a newborn baby, it is 60 to 90 seconds.

How does hippopotamus see under water?

Hippopotamus sees underwater

When we try to look in the water, it cannot be easy without goggles. But hippo’s eyes are covered with a clear membrane that works as goggles and protects their eyes under the water. When they stay there, it helps them to see clearly. So, they have no barrier to see.

Can hippos sink?

River horses cannot swim but they can sink or float. They control their breathing system and body posture to sink in the reservoir. They use their dense bones to float and paddle their legs to move which is kind of walking on the floor.

Is it true that hippos sleep under water?

Though it sounds funny hippos can indeed sleep underwater. They have a different adaptation system. They can sleep by using a reflex by which they can come top of the reservoir from the bottom without waking up. Every five minutes they just breathe in the air and sleep without disturbance.


The way hippos use to move underwater is interesting. We think about how fast a hippo can swim but never thought that they can make their moves without swimming. Their mysterious body structure allows them to gallop and it seems they swim through the waterside.

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Clay Traynor

Hello, I am Clay, a Zoophilist, Researcher, and Writer. I Write interesting and unknown facts about animal life, habitat, and health.

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