How Strong Is A Hippo? Hippo Bite Force

How Strong Is A Hippo

Hippos have one of the strongest bite forces among animals, exerting up to about 1,800 psi (8,100 Newtons).

In this guide, we will explore in entirety what is behind the power of the hippo bite as far as learning about the behavioral profile of the hippopotamus.

Hippo Bite Force

A hippopotamus has one of the strongest bite forces in the mammalian kingdom. The hippo boasts a force of 1,800 psi in its bite. To better demonstrate this, a hippopotamus can cut a hefty 10-foot crocodile in half in one bite.

This enormous bite force can be attributed not only to the hippo’s incisive tusks but also to its powerful jaws. Better put, the hippo’s jaws rank among the top 5% most powerful jaws among all known herbivores in existence.

The hippo can open its mouth as much as 180 degrees. This means that in one bite, the hippo could crush a well-matured watermelon in a bite like it was some small grapes.

Anatomy of Hippos’ Jaw Muscles

Hippos’ monstrous jaws are powered by thick, robust muscles that give them one of the strongest bite forces in the animal kingdom.

Key Players in Powerful Biting

There are several crucial muscles that control hippo jaw movement and biting:

The temporalis, a large triangular muscle in hippos, spreads from the temple to the jaw joint on the skull’s side. This muscle can be up to 4 inches thick. The temporalis pulls the mandible upward to close the jaws, generating tremendous bite force.

Masseter – The main chewing muscle in mammals, the masseter runs along the jawline and is another essential player in closing the hippo’s mouth. In a hippo, this muscle weighs over 15 pounds, which is 30 times heavier than a human’s masseter.

Pterygoids – Hippos have two pairs of pterygoid muscles: medial and lateral, both attached to the inner surfaces of the upper and lower jaws. These allow hippos to grind their molars together, facilitating their sideways chewing motion.

Digastrics – Long digastric muscles connect the hyoid bone to the lower jaw, passing through the middle of the mandible. The digastric muscles open the hippo’s mouth by pulling down the lower jaw after biting.

Specialized Skull and Jaw Features

The hippo skull and mandible have unique characteristics that give their muscles more power and leverage:

The hippo’s mandible, or lower jawbone, is greatly enlarged, offering a large surface area for muscle attachment.

The hippo’s skull is arched and domed, enhancing the biomechanical advantage of its strong jaw muscles.

The hippo’s skull has huge zygomatic arches, which are the large cheekbone arches that boost the leverage of bite force muscles such as the temporalis.

Putting It All Together

When a hippo bites down with full force, all of these muscular factors work in synchrony:

  • The bull-like neck muscles powerfully thrust the head downward.
  • The thick temporalis and heavy masseter muscles contract with great force.
  • The temporalis pulls up the giant mandible with tremendous force.
  • The pterygoids stabilize the jaw joint and prevent dislocation.
  • The massive jaws shut like a bear trap, generating a bite force exceeding 1,800 PSI, strong enough to sever a crocodile in half.

How Many Teeth Hippo Have?

Just like humans, the hippopotamus has four teeth types. These are incisors, molars, canines, and premolars. A fully grown hippo can have anywhere from 38-42 teeth. The teeth are bigger in male hippos compared to females.

Of this number, 28 are molars and premolars typically stationed at the back and sides of its mouth. The premolars and molars take care of grinding duties, courtesy of their flat ridges. This is the same with human teeth.

The remaining teeth are canine tusks and incisors. These canines and incisors find application in cutting food and biting other animals either in self-defense or the hippo being an aggressor, charging at other animals. Specifically, among all land animals, hippos have the largest teeth.

Are Hippo Teeth Sharp?

The hippo’s teeth are sharp, encased in a mouth whose width is around 4 feet. Each jaw is outfitted with a big pair of incisors. At a quick glance, the lower canine teeth are readily visible.

In male hippos, the lower incisors – just like the lower canines – are elaborated. The canines can grow to a length of 50 cm, while the incisors can grow up to 40 cm. The hippo’s canines are plated with enamel. This ivory even beats that of the elephant in strength and requires more exertion to carve.

Thanks to their sharpness, the incisors and the canines don’t actively partake in feeding duties (like grinding and chewing) but are majorly deployed in fighting. The lower canines, especially, are deployed offensively.

Do Hippo Teeth Fall Out?

Constant breaking down of food would progressively wear the hippo’s molars down due to friction. Over time, as the hippo ages significantly, the molars lose a bulk of their vitality due to such sustained wear. Ultimately, such hippopotamus will starve to death.

How Strong are Hippos?

At first glance, hippos seem harmless, looking like large, plump animals resting in muddy water. However, despite their bulky and slow appearance, hippos have surprising strength.

Dense, Powerful Muscles Under the Fat

Beneath their thick adipose tissue, hippos have dense, robust muscle fibers that enable their impressive strength.

  • Neck – Although a hippo’s neck appears smoothly rounded, it consists of dense muscle tissue bundles, strengthened by connective tissue fibers. This allows them to violently swing around their enormous heads.
  • Jaws – A hippo’s jaws have extremely powerful muscles. These include the 4-inch-thick temporalis and masseter muscles that weigh over 15 pounds each.
  • Hindquarters – Though they look heavy, a hippo’s hindquarters have strong glutes and quadriceps. These muscles enable them to swim faster than 30 mph, surpassing the speed of an Olympic swimmer.

Shocking Feats of Strength

Hippos can show startling displays of power when they use their muscular strength.

  • Charging – An angry hippo at top speed can exert a force of up to 3 tons, powerful enough to knock over cars.
  • Lifting – Hippos can easily lift large animals, including buffaloes and other hippos, weighing more than 4,000 pounds.
  • Dominance displays – Male hippos assert their dominance by swinging their 50-pound heads and crashing them into rivals, similar to wrecking balls.

The Evolutionary Need for Strength

Hippos evolved their incredible muscular strength for key survival needs:

  • Mating rights – Male hippos need massive neck and jaw strength to battle rivals and sire offspring.
  • Territory defense – Hippos must aggressively protect their river territories from intruding hippos.
  • Protection – Hippos use their strength to safeguard their vulnerable young calves from predators like crocodiles.
  • Foraging – Hippos use their powerful neck muscles to rip out tough grasses and crush fruits and seeds.

How Big Are Hippos?

Average Hippo Size

On average, a typical hippo measures:

  • Length: 10.8 to 16.5 feet
  • Height: 4.5 to 5.2 feet tall
  • Weight: 3,000 to 9,900 lbs!

Male hippos typically weigh about 1,500 lbs more than females.

Species – Pygmy hippos only reach about 500 lbs.

Captive hippos tend to be heavier than their wild counterparts.

A hippo’s head can be up to 2 feet long and weigh over 500 lbs.

Legs – Each of a hippo’s legs is as sturdy as a tree trunk, capable of supporting over 1 ton of weight.

Are Hippos Aggressive?

Given that hippos feed more on vegetation, people generally mistake hippos for gentle and amorous animals. This couldn’t be farther from reality.

Hippos are notably aggressive and are dangerous to interact with closely. Hippos are very territorial and are quick to classify any intruder as a threat, which it energetically attacks with its incisive tusks and large teeth.

When irritated, hippos can charge on land at 30km/hr. Frightening, isn’t it? More than this, hippos can venture into land searching for food and attack humans and animals they come across.

There have been many infamous cases of hippos charging at boats in water (and drowning its passengers), invading crops bordering water bodies, or hunting calves that stray into their territory.

In 2014, a hippo charged and attacked a school boat in Niger, causing it to capsize and kill 13 people – a teacher and 12 students.

Alarming statistics from BBC show that kill no less than 500 people in Africa annually, cementing its place among the world’s most dangerous land animals.

The aggression of hippos isn’t exclusively directed at other animals. Hippos are also hostile to themselves. Adult hippos have been known to kill younger hippos.

Aggression is more prevalent in male hippos, who start jaw-to-jaw sparring contests as early as 7 years when they are just adolescents. The hippo’s aggression hits a peak during the dry season.

In this period, there is amplified overcrowding (meaning more chances of hippos straying into rival territories) with equally increased breeding.

Due to their enormous size, hippos don’t boast the agility of more avid hunters like lions and tigers. Rather, they lock their teeth against each other when they fight among themselves, biting and pushing with their lower jaws, leveraging their strength and weight.

This is similar to the wrestling you see in deer when they lock antlers in fights.

What Animals Do Hippos Get Along with?

Outside its clan, the hippo doesn’t commune with a lot of animals. Being territorially aggressive, it is highly unlikely for the hippo to build a congenial or even symbiotic relationship with other animals.

But within its clan, the hippo is a pretty social animal, preferring to live in herds. A herd can contain anywhere from 10-30 hippos. There have been cases where herds were as large as 200 hippos.

The herd is randomly composed of adult male and female hippos. Nonetheless, the whole pack must submit to the sole authority of one dominant male.

This pack leader reserves the privilege to mate with just any adult female hippo in its pack. The other males are subordinates to it. The dominant male marks its pack’s territory by flinging its dung into the farthest distances possible, leveraging its tail shaped like a fan.

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