What's wrong with this hippo?


Yeah, like it says in the title.. what is wrong wih this hippo? (photographed at Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery). Or, 'was' wrong.. given that it's now dead. I really should say more about hippos at some stage. So far there's only this, and that's just not good enough.

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I can't even guess wrong, much less right. But I wanted to share what just happened. 4am here, couldn't sleep, walked in the garden, startled a critter that then loped away across the yard, all black, thought it was a cat but it loped just like a skunk. Ever heard of a melanistic skunk? I saw no white stripe at all, so I first figured it for a black cat, but it just didn't run like a cat nor like a Manx or dog or raccoon, and it kept its fluffy tail high like a skunk. Cryptid?

It has four mandibular incisors, the outermost left one is a little hard to make out.

Is it normal for both of the upper incisors to be pointing in the same direction though?

No idea about hippo osteology.

But you could write a bit about cold-hardy European hippos, and that H. gorgops with eye-stalks.

The missing canine might have something to do with the (probably lethal?) puncture just inside where it should be but isn't.

How about "hippo" is greek for horse, and this is obviously not a horse?

The lacrimal barely touches the orbit, but I suppose that's normalâ¦

Yep, the region where the left upper canine should be looks unhealthy. And where's the left lower canine?

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

It seems it had no body.

By mister mc loo (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

What's with that boney growth that looks like it matches up with where the bottom tusk sits once the mouth is closed? Do all hippos have that? Javalinas, which have small tusks, don't have that plate-thingy.

By Onychomys (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

Ah I know this hippo well, although not its pathologies.
It does appear to be missing top canines but the bottom ones seem to be sharpened as one would expect if it has a full set.

I remember seeing this beast when I was very young, probably highly influential.

It's lower "tusks" look extremely recurved, and it looks like the left tusk doesn't even have a socket. The mandibular incisors look WAY too big.

Its premaxillae look very wierd. I'd say they've been mounted the wrong way around, left for right, so that lateral has become medial and vice versa. The smaller pointy incisors should be medial, while the larger tusks should be lateral, where they should wear against the lower tusks.
Premaxillae always seem to come loose in hippo skulls in museums. I think it's just been repaired wrong.

By Mark Evans (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

@ DDeden
Where are you? Assuming you are in the UK it was most likely a feral mink, or if you were really lucky a marten. Also a slight possibility it was a melanistic skunk, they are becoming popular as pets in the UK now.

there seem to be more incisors than there should be, is that it?

By Zach Hawkins (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

Well, as others have noted, it is obviously missing the upper canine, at least on the side visible here. Judging from the shape of the lower canine, it must have lost it when it was still alive. It looks like there could be a major puncture hole in the upper jaw. While it's obvious the skull has been somehow damaged, I sure can't tell is what the cause of that is.

By Sclerophanax (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

I have to agree its in the premaxillae as they are not in a position to sharpen against each other.

By Tony Lucas (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

The sckull could have been damaged in a fight with something or an accident that eventualy got it to where it is know!
ps, Darren if you want to do another topic about hippos, you could do it about the pygmy hippopotamus, Hexaprotodon liberiensis.

By Zach Hawkins (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

yes, it is a fracture right i can not see it on eny other hippo skulls?

By Zach Hawkins (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

Is that the upper left canine [in the form of a reduced peg] protruding from that pathological bone at the front tip of the left maxillary? If so, it looks to have been worn down doing its proper duty as counterpart/sharpener of the lower canine.

missing left upper canine, the tooth socket appears to have been broken completely off, probably in a fight. I seriously doubt it could wear down to exposed spongy bone before the animal died. They grow continuously.
it is also missing one of the top left premolars, maybe from the same injury.
There is a gap between left lower molars and premolars, but nothing that unusual.

and that hole is not a hole, it's a loose suture because this skull looks pretty old. They have a ridge of bone on either side of the nasal bone, extending back from the upper canine.

By mousedude (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

I lack the skills to discuss the dentition or any special lumps and bumps... but was it an albino hippo? I suppose that would count as 'wrong' in the wild.

It lacks its top canines. There is a rugose boss where it should have been, but the canine itself is not present.

By Rutger Jansma (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

While "hippos" is, in fact, Greek for horse, the rest of the name, "potamus" is "river," so while you do not have a horse, you do have a river horse; similarly, a ringtail cat is not a cat and a bird commonly called a "Hawaiian honeyeater" was, in fact, a species of waxwing rather than a species of Meliphagidae.

"Words must be shaped to match reality, not vice versa"-Me

It drives a huge SUV and doesn't recycle.

By Stevo Darkly (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

I would say the atrophy of the upper canine 'cause I saw other hippo skulls on the web and it seems to be the major difference. But I'm absolutely not knowledgeable on the mammal anatomy so I'm probably wrong.

The lower and upper jaws do not seem to occlude, which would imply that their from different individuals.

Also, others have pointed out the weirdness in the premax. I do not think they're switched, but they do seem to be upturned more strongly than they probably should be.

Its premaxillae look very wierd. I'd say they've been mounted the wrong way around, left for right, so that lateral has become medial and vice versa.


I think you're right.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 13 Mar 2009 #permalink

It gossips.

It does look weird...the skull is mounted in a way that the jaw stays open, but it looks like it probably wouldn't close on it's own anyway. Either the specimen was repaired wrong...or the lower jaw was from another animal of a different size maybe?

And yeah, it's left canine is missing...or what is there is just a little stump.

Based on the orientation of the incisors the premaxillae appear to be mounted correctly, but that gap above where the canine isn't should be filled with part of the premaxilla. It's hard to tell from this angle, but isn't that lobe on inside of the left premaxilla present where part of the nasal bone should be? So, as others have already said, perhaps a healed puncture wound to that region.

@ Rosel

I'm in north California, US, climate similar to north UK coast. I haven't seen the critter again. There's lots of skunks, raccoons, cats around the area, but it was the first really all-black skunk I've ever seen; it seemed to have been standing on hind legs sniffing or nibbling a flower bush when I spooked it.

The upper front teeth are more in line than normal, so it looks like it wouldn't be able to lock upper and lower together like hippos normally do

Hippo's skulls are among the most scary of skulls.
Whether right or wrong.
This one looks extra bad.

Live hippos look cute and funny especially when seen swimming underwater BUT also scary when they gape.
I think when hippos die, all their scariness is retained, and as the flesh goes, the scariness just gets concentrated right there in the skull.

(shudder of appalled awe)

When hippos die scavengers have a hard time getting into them if the hide is intact, since hippo leather is justly famous for its durability. Comsequently dead hippos tend to just lie around, getting more and more bloated.
I once had to pass just downwind of a dead hippo that was looking more like a barrage balloon than an animal.
(shudder at the memory)

By Tommy Tyrberg (not verified) on 17 Mar 2009 #permalink

> Hippo's skulls are among the most scary of skulls.

You're right, Graham.

And hippos are damned dangerous. They tend to attack boats, mistaking them for trespassing hippos, and when they're grazing by the river at night, if they're startled they head straight for the river like a Sherman tank with the brakes off. If you're in the way, you've had it.

Only the fact that their teeth don't show when their mouth is closed, allows anyone to paint them as cuddly. I found this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1WOazd2eB0 which throws a little light on the "horse" reference, his head isn't the marshmallowy shape you see in cartoon hippos, and he's obviously fully capable of running as fast as a horse, over a short distance -- certainly faster than these tourists.

I'm not sure if the skull shows a puncture wound, but I if its there, I bet it was furnished by another hippo.


By Noni Mausa (not verified) on 18 Mar 2009 #permalink

I do believe that hippo had a third testicle. ;)

*arrives late*
So, what was wrong with the hippo???

I finally got around to inquiring of San Francisco Animal Control about a skunk I saw at Ft. Mason that had no stripes. I saw it very clearly about a month ago. She said it could be a melanistic skunk. I did a google search and it led me to the post here about a similar sighting. So they do exist, though they are very rare!

Thanks Ron, I guess there must be some slight advantage to being all black in the dense coastal forests with cloud cover next to the Pacific in northern California.

Possibly increased feral dogs running around that have lost their wild intuition to beware of bright animals.

them lower incisors look too big

Besides very small left and right upper canines, this specimen has an overbite.

By Robert Kolk (not verified) on 11 Jun 2010 #permalink