Can Hippos Breathe Underwater?

Hippos, those massive herbivorous creatures that reside in Africa, have a very unique way of cooling down in the scorching African heat. Spending up to 16 hours a day underwater, these creatures may leave you wondering if they can actually breathe underwater. The answer is no, hippos cannot breathe underwater. Like all mammals, they require oxygen to live, so they must surface to take a breath. However, they can hold their breath for an impressive five minutes before emerging. Interestingly, even baby hippos have the ability to sleep underwater due to a reflex that prompts them to quickly rise to the surface for a breath. But can they swim? Contrary to popular belief, hippos don’t actually swim. They run along the bottom of the water and appear to glide. Additionally, while predominantly found in freshwater environments such as lakes and rivers, hippos have been known to venture into saltwater estuaries. Join us as we explore more fascinating facts about these intriguing creatures and their relationship with water.

Can Hippos Breathe Underwater?


Hippos are large herbivorous mammals found in Africa. They spend the majority of their time underwater, around 16 hours a day, to stay cool in the hot climate. While they are known for their ability to stay submerged for extended periods, there is a common question that arises: Can hippos breathe underwater? This article will explore the breathing capability of hippos, their habits, and their relationship with water.

Breathing Underwater

Just like all mammals, hippos require oxygen to survive. However, unlike aquatic mammals such as dolphins or whales, hippos cannot breathe underwater. Hippos are not equipped with gills or any specialized adaptations to extract oxygen from water. Therefore, to breathe, they need to rise to the water’s surface and take a quick breath.

Breath Holding Ability

Although hippos cannot breathe underwater, they do possess an impressive breath-holding ability. Adult hippos can hold their breath for up to five minutes before resurfacing. This allows them to stay underwater for extended periods while grazing on aquatic plants. Baby hippos, on the other hand, have a shorter breath-holding capacity and can only stay underwater for less than a minute before needing to breathe.

Sleeping Underwater

Despite being unable to breathe underwater, hippos have a unique reflex that allows them to sleep while submerged. This reflex causes them to automatically bob up to the surface when they need to take a breath. This behavior enables hippos to have moments of rest even when they are submerged.

Swimming Capability

Contrary to popular belief, hippos are not strong swimmers. Instead of swimming in the conventional sense, they use their powerful legs to run along the bottom of bodies of water. This running motion allows them to propel themselves forward in a sort of glide. Hippos can reach a speed of about 5 mph while moving underwater.

Freshwater vs Saltwater Habitats

Hippos are primarily found in freshwater environments such as lakes, rivers, and their tributaries. These habitats provide an abundant food source and suitable conditions for their survival. While hippos prefer freshwater, there have been occasional sightings of hippos at beaches and in the ocean. However, these encounters are rare, and hippos are not adapted to live in saltwater for extended periods.

Estuaries as Habitat

Estuaries, where saltwater and freshwater mix, are another habitat where hippos can be found. These mixing zones provide a unique environment where hippos can thrive. However, hippos have limited tolerance to high levels of salinity and cannot survive solely in saltwater. Their presence in estuaries is usually temporary, as they will return to freshwater habitats.

Similarities to Other Animals

Hippos share some similarities with other semi-aquatic mammals. For example, they have adapted to a life both on land and in water, similar to beavers and otters. However, hippos have their unique adaptations that make them well-suited to their aquatic lifestyle. These adaptations include their large size, barrel-shaped bodies, and webbed feet.

Best Flashlights For Wildlife Spotting

While discussing hippos and their aquatic habits, it is also essential to mention other articles related to wildlife. One such article is the “Best Flashlights For Wildlife Spotting.” These flashlights provide appropriate lighting for nighttime wildlife observations, including hippos and other nocturnal animals. Understanding the right equipment can enhance the overall wildlife-spotting experience.

How to Keep Wasps Away From Your House

Another valuable article that can help readers in their daily lives is “How to Keep Wasps Away From Your House.” This article provides practical tips and advice on deterring wasps from nesting around homes, ensuring a safe and pleasant living environment. By implementing the suggestions in this article, readers can mitigate potential conflicts with wildlife such as wasps.


In conclusion, hippos cannot breathe underwater. Despite spending most of their time submerged, they need to rise to the surface to take a breath. They possess an impressive breath-holding ability, allowing them to stay underwater for several minutes. While hippos are not strong swimmers in the traditional sense, their unique adaptation of running along the bottom enables them to move with relative ease. While they primarily inhabit freshwater environments, occasional sightings in saltwater or estuaries may occur. Understanding the breathing capabilities and habits of hippos contributes to a better appreciation of these fascinating animals’ lives in their aquatic habitats.

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