Hippos are the third-largest land mammals on the planet, after the elephant and rhinoceros. During the day, they would spend most of their time in the water, and eat throughout the night. Which leads us to the question, what do they eat? Do hippos eat meat?
Hippos do eat meat, yes. However, not all hippos eat meat, and the ones that do, do not eat very often. Hippos are omnivores, but they mostly eat plant-origin food. Until recently, it was believed that hippos do not eat meat at all, but the latest studies have shown that hippos in some rare situations eat meat and even animal corpses.
In this article, we are going to see how often do hippos eat meat. And what type of meat do they eat the most.
Let’s dive right in!
Do hippos eat meat?
It is no surprise, that even though hippos do eat meat, it is not their favorite food. If it was, we wouldn’t have to ask if hippos eat meat – we would probably know because we would see them eating it all the time.
It is up to this day uncertain why and when exactly do hippos eat animal meat. Simply because their stomach anatomy is not suited for meat-origin food.
It is believed that hippos feeding habits come from deviant behavior, nutrition stress, or food-scarce circumstances.
Another possible reason why hippos eat meat on occasion is the lack of nutrients. Or their meat-eating habits could be a sign of opportunism.
Either way, the total number of meat-eating hippos is not increasing. In other words, many scientists missed observing these behaviors earlier.
What happens if hippos eat meat?
Eating meat on occasion won’t harm hippos. Many herbivore animals in the wild are seen eating meat. For instance, deer, which are strictly herbivores, sometimes eat mice. Or cows, which are the best-known ruminants, have been seen eating birds.
As a result, a rare meat snack won’t be fatal to hippos. Of course, unless completely changing their foraging behaviors and start eating only meat. Complete transition from grass to meat may cause growth deformity, organ failures, and eventually death.
How often do hippos eat meat?
Hippos are highly aggressive and territorial animals, but they almost entirely feed on grass. Only recently have new studies of hippos shown that their diet is sometimes different from what we initially thought.
A Ph.D. student Leejiah Dorward issued a study in the African Journal of Ecology where he recorded, until then very rare incident – hippo carnivory.
A male hippo killed an impala that a group of wild dogs chased before. After slaying the prey, other hippos joined to feed on the impalas’ carcass. Other study records included hippos’ prey on common wildebeest and buffalo.
In general, hippos are not considered predatory animals, meaning they would not hunt other animals for food. These incidents are rare and could be the result of hippo starving or other behavior deformities.
The same studies also covered the first cases of hippo cannibalism. An adult male hippo was feeding on another hippos’ corpse, who passed away the previous day from fighting injuries.
So, how often do they eat meat? It is hard to tell, but probably more often than we previously thought. The harder the life conditions are, the higher the probability of hippos eating meat. It is also highly likely that wild hippos eat meat more often than hippos in zoos.
What type of meat do hippos eat?
Hippos spend five hours each night, feeding on their favorite food – grass. They also like reeds and green shoots, but they avoid coarser grass which is difficult for them to digest. Hippos can consume up to 150lb each night. Yet, when it comes to meat-eating, hippos are not picky.
A wild hippo meat source includes impalas, baby elephants, wildebeest, buffalos, and other hippos that were killed by them or by other predators.
While captivity hippos in zoos kill and eat their neighbors, such as wallabies, flamingoes, and tapirs. However, animal slaughtering scenarios are less frequent in comparison to wild hippos.
In general, hippos would eat any source of animal meat that is available and easy to obtain at the moment.
Are hippos carnivores?
No, hippos are not carnivores. As we already mentioned, the majority of their food intake is from plants, while only a small part of hippo individuals eat meat. As a result, a hippo is viewed as an omnivore animal.
Yet, according to Wikipedia, these large animals are still categorized as herbivores. The reason could be because of their fairly recent meat-eating habits.
Another reason why hippos are still considered herbivores is that hippos eat meat on rare occasions. And only a few individuals are noticed with these feeding behaviors and not the whole species.
The hippo diet is not the only thing that was misinterpreted for years. Also, for a long, it was believed that hippos are closely related to pigs. Yet, the latest research has shown that their closest relatives are whales and dolphins.
Hippos are the most carnivores of all herbivores animals in the wild. However, meat is not the main food source for hippos. More than 95% of their nutrition comes from grass and other plants. Although, sometimes a hippo would hunt and eat different animals.
It is not easy to understand the direct reason for meat-eating hippos habits. Considering the fact that hippos digest system is not suited for those feeding practices.
Carnivory in hippos behavior is something that was here for a long time. Yet, because of lack of observation, we have missed this phenomenon in the past.