What Sound Does a Hippo Make?

Hippos are interesting creatures with various unique traits, so it’s no surprise that they have such unique vocalizations. But how do they communicate with one another, and what sound does a hippo make?

Hippos are loud and communicate with each other through grunts, honks, roars, and wheezes. They can communicate both above and below the water simultaneously. Hippos are more likely to respond to vocalizations from strangers than any other stimuli – which could have implications for conservation efforts.

In this article, we’ll explore the various sounds hippos make and what they might mean.

Hippo head in the water close up

Do Hippos Produce Sounds?

Yes, hippos produce sounds. Hippos actually make quite a lot of noise.

They grunt, honk, roar, and even make wheezing sounds. Their grunting sounds can be pretty amusing.

They tend to congregate in pools, which can be overwhelming when they start chatting. The sound echoes, making the hippos seem even louder.

Do Baby Hippos Make Sounds?

Not only do baby hippos make sounds, but they’re also absolutely adorable doing so.

Their sounds are low grunts, like baby Fiona demonstrates below.

Baby hippo Fiona makes grunting sounds

What Sounds Do Hippos Make?

The noises hippos make are diverse, including grunts, groans, roars, growls, and wheezes

They can also chuff and honk.

The Noise Made by Wild Hippos Can Be Deafening

Are Hippos Loud Animals?

Yes, hippos are quite loud. Their sounds can reach up to 114 decibels when asserting dominance or when threatened, which is as loud as a rock concert. 

Interestingly enough, you can hear them from a mile away too.

The noises hippos make are usually in the 10 to 20 Hz range, but they can also produce bubble blasts. Sometimes they make sounds that humans can’t hear because the frequency is too low. This communication is known as infrasound.

Amphibian Nature of Hippo Sounds

Because hippos are semi-terrestrial, meaning they live on both land and in water, this raises the question of how they communicate underwater.

Interestingly, 80% of hippo communication occurs underwater while walking along riverbeds. These sounds are produced similarly to dolphins.

Sound waves are unable to switch mediums. When a hippo makes sounds, its mouth remains submerged in water. The sounds produced go through the nostrils and into the air while also resonating through the jawbones of the hippo underwater.

Hippos have a unique adaptation that allows them to listen and make noise underwater.

The sound waves produced by their chatter resonate through their jaw bones and the thick layers of fat around their necks.

Their powerful jaws are connected directly to their middle ears, bypassing the need for external ear flaps entirely.

Why Do Hippos Make Sounds?

Although hippos may seem like harmless creatures, they are very dangerous. Their most common visual warning sign is yawning, which might look peaceful, but it’s not. 

The sound associated with yawning is also a warning sign that should not be ignored.

In general, hippos use sounds to communicate different messages to other hippos like;

  • Honking to inform other members of the group about potential threats.
  • Male hippos also produce honking sounds after mating with a female, attempting to announce the occurrence of mating through these wheezy noises.
  • Sometimes males use their unique mating calls to produce mating calls
Hippopotamus in the water with its mouth wide open

Types of Communication Hippos Do Underwater

Hippos produce three different types of sounds while submerged, which are faint on land and don’t require much air. These comprise of:

  • The tonal whines are high-frequency and can last from less than a second to six seconds or more. Tonal whines are associated with submissive behavior.
  • Hippos frequently emit a staccato series of pulses known as a croak, typically occurring during social interactions among herd members, especially between calves and subadults.
  • Hippos communicate with each other using a series of short, sharp clicks. These sounds are much shorter than the croaks made by other animals, and there is no evidence that hippos use them for echolocation. It seems that they use clicks primarily during aggressive displays.

Do Hippos Recognize the Voices of Their Friends or Foes?

Although not much is known about their social communication, hippos use vocal recognition to manage relationships between different groups in their territory. 

Some researchers conducted playback experiments on groups of hippos and observed their response to vocalizations. They experimented on:

  • Familiarity –   an individual of the same group 
  • Neighbors – a group from the same lake
  • Strangers – a distant group

Their study found that hippos were more responsive to vocalizations from strangers than other stimuli. 

Not only does this show that hippos can identify members of their species based on vocal signatures, but also that groups of hippos behave less aggressively towards those they know compared to outsiders.

Because habituation playbacks result in lowered risks of conflict between individuals who have never seen each other, these research findings could create new opportunities for conservation when relocating hippos to safer areas.

Hippo in the water

Final Thoughts On Hippo Sounds

The sounds hippos make serve various purposes, from warning others of danger to expressing interest in mating. They communicate through grunts, honks, roars, and wheezes.

Although not much is known about their social communication, researchers have found that hippos use vocal recognition to manage relationships between different groups in their territory. 

These findings could create new opportunities for conservation efforts.

FAQs

Why Do Hippos Honk?

Male hippos usually honk to alert others of potential threats. They also produce noises after mating with a female in an attempt to broadcast the occurrence of such events. Sometimes, males use their specialized calls specifically for mate attraction.

Can Hippos Talk?

Although hippos are widely beloved animals, few people know how chatty they can be. In addition to grunting and shouting, they also make loud roars, wheezes, and honks. While this may sound amusing to some, it can overwhelm large groups of hippos.

Can Hippos Hear Underwater?

Hippos can communicate underwater by producing sound waves that travel through their jaw bones and the layers of fat around their necks. Their jaws are connected directly to their middle ears, which allows them to hear underwater even when their ears are above the surface.

Do Hippos Have Vocal Cords?

Hippos, like other mammals, have two vocal cords that produce noises such as honks and shouts. They use these sounds to communicate within their social groups and can be heard from a mile away.