The Surprising Facts About Hippopotamus Communication: What Do They Say?

Uncategorized By Aug 06, 2023

Hippos communicate through a variety of methods, including vocalizations, body language, and chemical signals. Their vocalizations range from grunts to roars and each carries a specific meaning. Body language, such as gaping jaws and tail wagging, is used to convey messages of aggression or submission. Hippos also use chemical signals released from special glands on their skin to communicate information about territory ownership, reproductive status, and individual identity. Understanding hippo communication involves decoding the messages exchanged between individuals, such as establishing dominance or attracting mates. Mating rituals involve vocalizations, physical displays, and underwater fights.

The Surprising Facts About Hippopotamus Communication: What Do They Say?

The Surprising Facts About Hippopotamus Communication: What Do They Say?


Hippopotamuses, commonly known as hippos, are fascinating creatures that inhabit the rivers, lakes, and swamps of Africa. While they may seem like solitary animals, hippos actually have a complex communication system that allows them to interact with each other effectively. In this article, we will explore the surprising facts about hippopotamus communication and unravel what messages they convey.

The Language of Hippos

Hippos communicate through a combination of vocalizations, body language, and chemical signals. These methods enable them to express various emotions, establish dominance hierarchies, and attract potential mates.


Hippos produce a range of vocalizations that include grunts, roars, snorts, and honks. These sounds differ in tone and intensity, each carrying a specific meaning. For example, a deep roar may serve as a territorial warning, whereas a higher-pitched grunt can indicate submission or appeasement.

Body Language

Body language plays a significant role in hippo communication. They use a variety of gestures, such as gaping their jaws, head shaking, and tail wagging, to convey different messages. Wide-open jaws and displays of large teeth are often a sign of aggression or a warning signal to rivals.

Chemical Signals

Hippos also use chemical signals to communicate, primarily through their glandular secretions. These secretions, released from special glands located on their skin, carry information about territory ownership, reproductive status, and individual identity. Each hippo has a unique chemical profile that others can recognize.

The Messages Exchanged

Understanding hippo communication requires decoding the messages exchanged between individuals. While the exact meanings can vary depending on the context, here are some common scenarios:

Establishing Dominance

When two hippos encounter each other, they engage in elaborate displays to establish dominance. This can involve vocalizations, posturing, and physical interactions like pushing or biting. The dominant hippo asserts its superior status, while the submissive individual submits and avoids confrontation.

Mating Rituals

During the mating season, male hippos compete for the attention of females. They use vocalizations and physical displays to attract mates and show off their strength. These rituals can involve underwater fights and impressive displays of size and aggression.

Hippo pods, which consist of several individuals, engage in coordinated communication to maintain group cohesion. They use a combination of vocalizations and physical gestures to signal their presence, coordinate movements, and warn others of potential threats.

FAQs About Hippopotamus Communication

1. Can hippos communicate with other species?

Hippos primarily communicate within their own species, but they can also produce vocalizations and body language that might impact other neighboring animals.

2. Are there regional accents or variations in hippo vocalizations?

Studies suggest that hippos from different regions exhibit slight variations in their vocalizations. These variations might be related to genetic differences or particular environmental conditions.

3. How far can hippos’ vocalizations travel?

Hippos’ vocalizations can travel over long distances, especially underwater. Sound travels more efficiently in water, allowing their calls to be heard by other hippos in the area.

4. Do hippos have a specific call for danger?

Hippos lack a specific call for danger, but their communication system allows them to alert each other of potential threats through various vocalizations and body movements.

5. Can humans understand hippo communication?

While researchers have made significant progress in decoding hippo communication, understanding it completely is challenging. Humans can grasp some basic meanings of vocalizations and gestures, but the intricacies of their communication system remain a subject of ongoing study.


Hippos, with their unique communication system, demonstrate that they are not just massive, semi-aquatic animals but also highly social creatures. By vocalizing, using body language, and emitting chemical signals, they effectively convey messages about dominance, mating, and group coordination. While our understanding of hippo communication is continually evolving, one thing is certain – their communication is as fascinating and complex as the majestic animals themselves.