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Hippo Digestive System

The hippopotamus, colloquially known as the hippo, is a semi-aquatic mammal that is usually found lazing the sub-Saharan Africa. Hippos are herbivores.

Hippo Digestive System Explained

Their diet is made up of primarily vegetation however they tend to only eat grass (especially grass found near water), and on some occasions, aquatic plants.  It is one of the biggest grazers.

Digestive systems form a large part of an animal. Hippos have one of the most interesting and unique digestive systems. The most animals a system is known as a ruminant digestive system (which is a stomach that has four compartments, namely the rumen, reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum). The ruminant digestive system can be found in animals such as cattle, deer, goats, and sheep. Hippos differ from this; they instead have what is called a 3-chambered stomach with each part having a different a distinct purpose. Hippos are therefore referred to as pseudoruminants because they have a digestive system that is similar to a ruminant and they enjoy the benefits that comes with a ruminant system. Their system also practices foregut fermentation of microbes like the ruminant system– the effect of this is that food is exposed to micro bacteria and can lead to early digestion, this, in turn, allows them to abstain and use the energy from the low energy plant-based foods they consume on a daily basis. The foregut can be found attached to the walls of the mesentery. The mesentery is a set of tissues that attaches the organs of mammals to the wall of the body.

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Hippos also differ from animals with a ruminant system in what they do with cud. Cud is food in a ball-like mass that is partly digested and then returned from the first stomach to the mouth in order for the animal to chew it more. The process happens continuously, around six to eight times. While ruminant animals chew the cud, the hippo chooses not to chew on the cud. They instead eat it in one go. The purpose of chewing the cud is to break the food down so that it is easier to digest and absorb into the gut. Most animals with the ruminant system eat food that is difficult to digest, this is why they regurgitate their food continuously.

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The Hippo digestive system, Structures

  • The mouth: this is what the hippo uses to chew its food and mix it with its saliva. There are no enzymes in the saliva of the hippo, which impacts on the digestive process.
  • Oesophagus: this is where the food comes down into the stomach.
  • The three chambers
  1. Parietal blind sac
  2. Forestomach: this part of the stomach can be thought of as a connecting chamber or a connecting tissue. This compartment is where all the food that the hippo consumes is “mixed up and blended” into a soup-like substance.
  3. The glandular stomach: this is also known as the main stomach within the stomach. Its role is to secrete enzymes, pepsin (helps to break down proteins) and stomach acid known as HCI (hydrochloric acid) that kills harmful bacteria and breaks down solids. It also connects the stomach to the intestines. The glandular is the only compartment that has cardiac, pyloric, and fundic glands (these glades are located on the lining of the stomach)
  • Hippos also have a small and large intestine. The small intestine is where all the fats, proteins and fat are digested (or emulsified) by enzymes and absorbed. The large intestine has the function of absorbing the water that goes through it and excretes whatever bodily material is left over as feces.
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Other interesting facts about the Hippos Digestive System

  • An interesting fact about the digestive system of a hippo is that the excretion process results in an ecological benefit. Nutrients are added in or near the water which is used by other animals such as fish and invertebrates.
  • Hippos keep the bilharzia parasite in their bodies, however, this does not in any way affect their digestive system.
  • The hippo digestive system does not have a caecum, which can be described as a tube-like structure or pouch that is connected to the small intestines and the large intestines. This is a rare physical feature as most animals with a pseudo-ruminant digestive system have a caecum.
  • Hippos are actually born with sterile intestines. What this means for the young hippos is that they get to consume the feces of their mother to get bacteria that will assist in them in digesting their food.
  • Many assume that because of the uniqueness and operation of the hippo’s digestive system, it can operate well regardless of the conditions of the environment. However, studies show that the digestive system of a hippo can react to changes in temperature, in the microbial community and in pH levels (pH levels are the acidity/alkalinity levels of a solution).
  • Hippos have very low metabolic rates.

Visiting St Lucia, Kzn for the first time will undoubtedly blow your mind. Yes, the likelihood of you actually seeing a Hippo walking about in the town is real. St Lucia is South Africa's very first world heritage site and for good reason. The abundance of wildlife and beauty that surrounds this small town is quite splendid. St Lucia is also in close proximity to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Africa's oldest proclaimed game reserve making St Lucia the ideal place from where to explore and discover the area.

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