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Hippopotamus, called hippos, are monstrous, mostly herbivorous, semiaquatic mammals native to most of Africa. Only in the Sahara Desert are they not found. Their origins have always been a problem for evolution because they  are like no other living animal. Only two extant species exist, the Nile hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius), and the pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropisi liberiensis). During the daytime they are aquatic, floating in the water world, and at the nighttime they are land animals consuming mostly grasses, soft plants, and some succulent fruit. (Macdonald,1987, p. 507) They were named from the Greek words for river horse.

The Nile hippo is the third-largest land mammal, only elephants and rhinoceroses are larger. Their teeth can grow over two feet long. (Dykes, 2007, p. 50). Their size protects them from all predators except mankind, although at times they may have to tangle with crocodiles. Their rotund body and short legs  are capped with a large head and a wide mouth. They secrete an effective pinkish sun blocker and anti-biotic to protect their monstrous body which is prone to skin damage. The skin, which must be kept wet, lacks sweat glands and is covered with only a few fine hairs (Hutchins, 2003, p. 305).

Its large canines and incisors are sharp to cut and grind up the 100 pounds of vegetable matter they consume each night. Their teeth grow continuously, a requirement due to their abrasive diet. Their ears and eyes are on top of their head to allow them to see and hear the sights and sounds as they leisurely move around the water while 98 percent of their body is below the waterline. As mammals, they breathe air but can hold their breath for five minutes or longer when submerged. They also can sleep underwater, using reflexes that allow them to float up, take a breath, and sink back down while still sleeping.


Their evolution has stymied evolutionists ever since Darwin. No other animal even closely resembles the hippos many unique features “causing the evolutionary-biologist considerable embarrassment at its origins” (Dykes, 2007, p. 52). The fact is the “fossil record provides little evidence of their ancestry (Hutchins, 2003, p. 301). This is not due to a shortage of fossils, but the fact that “all fossils can be readily assigned to one or other of the modern genera.”

The only exception is a “dwarf hippo from the Pleistocene of Cyprus, which has been placed in a separate genus” and is likely an extinct hippo (Hutchins, 2003, p. 301). Given the large distinctive features of hippo bones, which are often well-preserved compared to most other animals, if evolution occurred many transitional features should exist in the fossil record (Dykes, 2007. p. 52).

Until 1909, based on their physical resemblance to pigs and their molar patterns, naturalists grouped hippos with pigs (Hutchins, 2003, p. 302). As they did more research this apparent similarity gave way to other theories at the turn of the last century. Their blood proteins, molecular systematics, and mtDNA suggested their closest living relatives are not pigs or any similar animal, but rather cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises (Gatesy, J., 1997; Hutchins, 2003, p. 304; Geisler and Theodor, 2009). Other research using the cytochrome b DNA did not support this conclusion (Hutchins, 2003, p. 304).  Hutchins concludes there is “no general agreement on a hippo/whale link, though if such a link exists, it is probable a weak one.” (Hutchins, 2003, p. 304). This is another example of comparing one or a few genes and getting one result and comparing another gene and finding another result, illustrating DNA analysis is very suspect unless the entire DNA is compared.

Another problem is that hippo teeth are composed of a type of ivory, which, except for male narwhals, is not found in cetaceans, but rather the same material as an elephant’s tusks except, unlike the elephant tusks, is a higher grade of ivory that doesn’t yellow with age. For this reason, higher quality teeth, such as those of President George Washington’s, were made from hippo ivory. (Dykes, 2007, p. 51).

Hippos therefore remind us of the amazing diversity that we see in the creation, and in the case of these animals, the disparity (unique body plan and lifestyle) which separates them from all other creatures.


Dykes,Jeffrey. 2007. Creation, 29(4):50–53, September.

Gatesy, J. 1997. More DNA support for a Cetacea/Hippopotamidae clade: the blood-clotting protein gene gamma-fibrinogen” (PDF). Molecular Biology and Evolution, 14 (5):537–543, May 1. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a025790. PMID 9159931.

Geisler, J. H. and J. M. Theodor. 2009. Hippopotamus and whale phylogeny. Nature,  458(7236):E1–E4,

Hutchins, Michael (Editor). 2003. Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition. Volume 15: Mammals IV, “Hippopotamuses.” Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson/Gale Group.

Macdonald, David W. 1987. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York, NY: Facts on File.

Sanders, Robert. 2005. “UC Berkeley, French scientists find missing link between the whale and its closest relative, the hippo.” UCBerkeleyNews,  January 24.

Jerry Bergman
October 2019

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