How Long Can Hippos Hold Their Breath Underwater?



Hippo’s love staying submerged underwater and can hold their breath for quite a long time. But how long can hippos hold their breath underwater before coming up for air?

Adult hippos can hold their breath for up to 5 minutes, but newborns can only do it for 40 seconds. However, reflexes and adaptations like automatic closure of lungs, low body density, and breathing in bursts enable them to stay or even sleep underwater for extended periods.

So, if you’re curious about these incredible animals and what they can do underwater, keep reading! 

Hippopotamus swimming underwater close up

How Long Can a Hippo Hold Its Breath?

Because hippos spend most of their time in rivers and lakes, they are very good at holding their breath. An adult hippo can hold its breath for up to 5 minutes underwater before coming up for fresh air.

Because hippos’ eyes, nostrils, and ears are on top of their head, they can see, breathe and hear while the rest of their body is submerged in water.

How Long Can a Baby Hippo Hold Its Breath?

Although female hippos can give birth on land and in water, they prefer to do so underwater. However, their babies are not yet as proficient as their parents at holding their breath and can only manage it for approximately 40 seconds before coming up for air.

Mothers must stay with their newborns and push them to the surface for air.

They do not leave their babies to eat until they are strong enough. Even though it’s tiring, mothers nurse their babies underwater for about eight months.

How Long Do Hippos Stay in the Water?

Hippos are mainly aquatic, spending up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes. 

Their affinity for water is twofold:

  • They are nocturnal animals and prefer to sleep during the day and come to the land at night for food.
  • The sun in Africa can be brutal, and animals must find ways to keep cool. For hippos, the best way to do this is by staying submerged.
Hippopotamus mother and her calf in a river in Kenya

How Can Hippos Hold Their Breath for Such a Long Time?

Hippos possess certain physical qualities that allow them to stay underwater for greater lengths of time:

Hippo Can Shut Off Their Breathing Mechanism

  • Whenever a hippo dives underwater, its lungs shut off automatically. It is a reflex mechanism that allows for steady oxygenated blood circulation and keeps the hippo conscious.
  • Some anatomical adaptations allow hippos to stay underwater for long periods without having to surface, meaning they don’t need to hold onto bubbles like other aquatic mammals for a steady supply of oxygen.

They Have Low Body Density and Can Resurface Quickly

When hippos need to breathe air, they can come up to the surface with minimal effort and breathe fresh oxygen.

Their bones are lighter and more hollow than other mammals, making them one of the lowest-density animals of their size.

Because of this, they don’t have to stress about taking as long to resurface, so they enjoy longer periods underwater.

Hippos Inhale and Exhale Oxygen in Bursts

Most mammals have a simple way of breathing where they inhale and exhale oxygen all at once. Hippos, on the other hand, have an exciting trait where they breathe in intervals rather than all at once.

These intriguing adaptations allow hippos to stay submerged for a long time without coming up for air.

Do Hippos Sleep Underwater?

Hippos mostly sleep immersed in water with only their nostrils, eyes, and ears above the surface. They can even have a deep sleep underwater.

They usually need to come up for air every 5 minutes, but when sleeping, they don’t have to do this.

They reflexively bob up to take a breath and then go back under without waking up.

Which Animal Can Hold Its Breath Longest in Water?

Sea turtles are not mammals but can hold their breath for between 4-7 hours on average.

Green sea turtles can hold their breath for 5 hours, while Loggerhead sea turtles have been documented holding theirs for longer than 10 hours.

Green sea turtle

Final Thoughts On How Long Hippos Can Hold Their Breath

Hippos can stay underwater for long periods thanks to their anatomy and reflexes.

Adults can do this for up to 5 minutes, while babies aren’t as efficient, only lasting 40 seconds.

It is a remarkable feat that hippos have developed in order to survive in the harsh environments they call home.

Hippopotamus sleeping underwater


How Long Do Hippos Stay Out of Water?

Hippos spend about 16 hours a day in the water and are left with only 8 hours of the day. They spend 6 hours daily feeding on grass, which they may have to travel miles to find.

Do Hippos Breath Air or Water?

Hippos typically spend 5 minutes underwater before returning to the surface for fresh air. When they eat grass while submerged, however, they close their lungs, and instead of taking in oxygen through their mouths, they consume aquatic plants.

Can Hippos Survive Out of Water?

Without water, hippos would overheat and eventually die because they need it to regulate their body temperature. They spend at least 16 hours a day submerged and usually only come on land to eat.

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