Male vs. Female Hippos: 6 Key Differences

Hippos family and baby under African Sun - Diving
© 1001slide/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Kellianne Matthews

Published: January 13, 2024

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Amid the rumbling snorts and murky waters of Africa, male and female hippopotamuses can be spotted in groups of up to 100 individuals. From their robust bodies to their complex social structures, the differences between male and female hippos offer a fascinating glimpse into their semiaquatic realm. So, let’s dive in and explore the six key differences between male vs. female hippos!

Comparing Male vs. Female Hippos

Male HipposFemale Hippos
Size7,050 to 9,920 pounds.3,300 to 6,600 pounds.
Appearance and Physical TraitsAdults have large tusks that grow up to 20 inches, which are used for protection, dominance in mating, and fighting other males for territory.Adults have shorter and smaller tusks, which are primarily used for protection and defending their young.
ReproductionBulls reach sexual maturity around 7.5 years old.Cows reach sexual maturity around 5 to 6 years old and are the primary caregivers of their calves.
Social LifeMales are dominant and not especially social.Females are more social than males and often spend time with other females and their calves.
Temperament and BehaviorMales are more aggressive and territorial.Females are less aggressive unless they are protecting their calves.
VocalizationsMales are louder and more vocal.Females are very vocal, but less so than males.

Male vs. Female Hippos: Size

Hippos family and baby under African Sun - Diving

Male hippos can grow nearly twice as big as female hippos.

©1001slide/iStock via Getty Images

Hippos are undeniably enormous creatures, but male hippos are especially impressive when it comes to size. These remarkable behemoths rank as the third largest land mammals on Earth, only smaller than white rhinos and elephants. Female hippos weigh an astonishing 3,300 to 6,600 pounds, which is truly ginormous.

However, male hippos are even bigger, measuring 10.8 to 16.5 feet in length and weighing a staggering 7,050 to 9,920 pounds — that’s an incredible 4.5 tons in a single animal! And mind you, this isn’t just body fat; hippos are extremely muscular and powerful animals. They are agile swimmers in the water, and on land they can easily outrun a human, reaching speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. With their enormous size and athletic bodies, hippos can quickly charge and trample just about anything that gets in their way.

Male vs. Female Hippos: Appearance and Physical Traits

Group of Hippos in the water

Male hippos grow tusks that are far larger and longer than those of females.

©Sergey Uryadnikov/

Both male and female hippos grow tusks, but males generally have larger and more prominent ones. Hippo tusks are made of ivory and are essentially just oversized canine teeth, much like those found in elephants.

Male hippos use their tusks for protection, for dominance in mating, and for fighting other males for territory. Hippos can open their mouths 180 degrees, revealing their impressive tusks that can grow 20 inches long! Female hippos, on the other hand, mainly use their shorter and smaller tusks for protection and to defend their young. 

Male vs. Female Hippos: Lifespan and Reproduction

Hippopotamus baby with mother

Female hippos nurse their calves both on land and in the water.

©Kelly Engelbrecht/

Male hippos are known as bulls, while females are called cows. Female hippos reach sexual maturity between five and six years old, while males typically reach sexual maturity when they are around 7.5 years old. Males engage in intense battles to establish their dominance and win the right to mate with the females. In a display of power, they strategically perform a “yawn” — this simple yet effective signal displays their strength and intimidates other male challengers. 

After mating, females are pregnant for eight months and then give birth to a single calf. Female hippos are the primary caregivers and are very protective of their young. They are not territorial like male hippos, but they can be just as dangerous — especially when they are protecting a young hippo calf.

Male vs. Female Hippos: Social Life

Large pod of hippos in the river at dusk

A hippo pod may contain as many as 100 hippos.

©Roy Gilham/iStock via Getty Images

Hippos are social creatures and live together in groups called pods. Dominant males who have established territories, often allow younger males to join their groups, as long as they do not threaten or challenge their position. In addition, other male hippos, known as “bachelors”, form their own bachelor groups with other single males, while females mostly spend time with other female hippos. Female hippos are more inclined to be social than males are and frequently gather with other females and their hippo calves. 

In addition, researchers have found that female hippos prefer spending time with their family members over non-family members. In some cases, both mothers and grandmothers may even share nursing responsibilities. 

Male vs. Female Hippos: Temperament and Behavior


Males are much more territorial in the water than they are on land.

©Fayad Hameed/

In general, male hippos exhibit more aggression than females. They are highly territorial, particularly in the water, and react very aggressively if they feel threatened or if someone enters their territory. Males remain highly vigilant in safeguarding their territory and become even more combative during dominance battles and mating seasons.

Female hippos are less aggressive than males. However, they are extremely protective of their calves. They can display high levels of aggression if they feel their calves are in danger. 

Male vs. Female Hippos: Vocalizations

Frontal Portrait of Hippo Partially Submerged Under Water

Hippos can simultaneously emit sound from their nostrils above the water and their mouths below.


Hippos are very loud animals and can emit sounds reaching up to 114 decibels — that’s as loud as a rock concert! Males are typically louder and more vocal than female hippos, especially during the mating season or when defending their territory. They may bellow loudly to establish dominance or to defend their territory. 

Hippos can make sounds both in the air and underwater — and they can do both at the same time! Dominant males tend to be the first to produce sounds, and those already above water will respond to the sounds they hear in the air. Hippos under the water will also come up to the surface if they hear certain sounds. They will then call together in a loud chorus that can be heard over long distances. 

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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on anthrozoology, conservation, human-animal relationships, and animal behavior. Kellianne has been writing and researching animals for over ten years and has decades of hands-on experience working with a variety of different animals. She holds a Master’s Degree from Brigham Young University, which she earned in 2017. A resident of Utah, Kellianne enjoys creating, exploring and learning new things, analyzing movies, caring for animals, and playing with her cats.

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