Home Animals Do Hippos Have Tails? The Tail Story

Do Hippos Have Tails? The Tail Story

do hippo have tails

Hippopotamuses are certainly silly-looking creatures. But do hippos have tails? In addition to their pig-like bodies and their huge mouths, which can open up to an astounding 180 degrees, they also have tiny tails. This small tail hanging from their back can make them look very funny, especially when compared to their giant bodies.

Hippos are also highly territorial, and they will use their tails to mark their territory with a foul-smelling mixture of urine and feces. However, their tails also serve another important purpose. When hippos are born, their tail is used to help them reach the surface of the water so that they can take their first breath.

In addition, tails are used to communicate non-verbally with other hippos. For example, a tail that is held high in the air is a signal of aggression, while a tail that is held low to the ground indicates submission.

do hippos have tails

Do Hippos Have Tails?

Although they are not particularly known for it, hippos do in fact have tails. These tails are small, typically only growing to 22 inches in length. They are also quite flat and tend to be nearly hairless. The tail is the same color as the hippo’s body. Interestingly, hippos are not the only animals with tails. 

In fact, all vertebrates have a small bone at the bottom of their spine. This bone is known as a coccyx. In most animals, this bone does not develop into a full-fledged tail. However, in hippos, this bone does grow into a fully-functioning tail. It is believed that the tail serves several purposes for hippos, such as helping them to balance when they are in the water.

What Does a Hippo Use Its Tail For?

The hippopotamus is an interesting creature when it comes to its tail. While most animals use their tails for balance or as a way to communicate, the hippo uses its tail primarily for defecation. When a hippo needs to go, it will often do so in the water, which can have a devastating effect on the local ecosystem.

The feces of a hippo sink to the bottom of the river, where they decompose and release harmful bacteria into the water. This bacteria quickly depletes the oxygen levels in the water, making it inhospitable for fish and other aquatic life. However, the hippo’s tail serves an important purpose in this process. 

hippo with baby hippo

By spinning its tail like a propeller, the hippo is able to sprinkle its waste over a wide area of around 10 meters, which helps to indicate the territory belonging to them.  

Hippos are territorial animals, and one of the ways they mark their territory is by urinating and defecating in certain areas. This lets other hippos know that the area is claimed by another hippo, and it also serves as a warning to intruders. The prime male of a group of hippos will often do this fanning activity with its tail to let other members of the group know who is in charge. 

This is also a sign of dominance over other male hippos in the area. If somebody violates the territorial codes of conduct, they will face the wrath of the prime bull. This is because hippos are very protective of their territory and will not hesitate to attack intruders.

As anyone who has watched a nature documentary knows, hippos are incredibly large and powerful animals. What many people don’t realize, however, is that hippos can be just as aggressive as they are big. If their land is under attack, hippos will become very agile and fight fiercely to defend it. In fact, they have been known to kill lions and impale Nile crocodiles in the heat of battle.

One way that a young male hippo will challenge the sigma bull of a group is by sprinkling his urine in the same place where the sigma sprayed his urine. This is a sign of defiance towards the sigma and is sure to get the prime male angry. When this happens, a bloody battle ensues. Unfortunately, more often than not, the enthusiastic young male is defeated and is forced to flee.

hippo with tails

The Tail Story

The tail of a hippopotamus is an interesting body part that has spun many tales throughout the years. The Bushmen, who are some of the indigenous people who have lived in Southern Africa for thousands of years, have many stories about the tail. 

Some of their tales indicate that God didn’t wish to put hippopotamus in the water. He thought that an animal so big could eat all the aquatic beings like fishes. But the hippo promised god that he will eat grass only. 

So God considered this request but with a condition. The condition was that the hippo would have to keep its tail out of the water. If the tail ever got wet, then the hippo would be forced to return to the water and eat all the fish. The tail is thus a symbol of the hippo’s promise to God. And, according to Bushmen mythology, it is also a reminder of the power of oaths and promises.


Do Hippos have tails? Thus, we have seen that hippos do in fact have tails, though they are much smaller than the rest of their body. Their main purpose for having a tail seems to be for spraying dung around, which perhaps helps them mark their territory or provides some other sort of benefit. Whatever the reason, it is clear that hippos are equipped with tails, even if they’re not as conspicuous as the tails of other animals.

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Author Profile
Zahra Makda
Wildlife Enthusiast | Explorer at Animals Research

Growing up enjoying the beauty of my village, a good passion for nature developed in me from childhood. Following my passion for the natural world, I have chosen zoology for my graduation, during my undergraduate degree, I participated in many nature trails, bird watching, rescues, training for wildlife conservation, workshop, and seminars on biodiversity. I have a keen interest in invertebrate biology, herpetology, and ornithology. Primary interests include studies on taxonomy, ecology, habitat and behavior.

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