In prehistoric Africa lived a beast that terrorized our hominid ancestors like no other creature in history. In fact, it killed more early humans than lions, crocodiles, and water buffalo combined. With over two tons of bulk and sharp, foot-long tusks – its skin oozing a red viscous liquid that made it appear to be sweating blood – one of these monsters would attack suddenly for no reason, charging out of the water far faster than its hapless human prey could run, snapping their entire body in half with a massive bite. But it didn’t eat its victims – it was an herbivore. It killed simply because it was 8,000 lbs of testosterone-fueled rage.

The scary thing is: It’s still around. And everything that was true then is true now. It’s the deadliest, most wrathful animal in the world.

And it’s hungry, hungry.

If you are ever on safari in Africa, nevermind the lions. They sleep almost as much as koalas do. And be wary of the crocodiles, but if you stay on dry land, you should be safe. But never, never get near the hippopotamus. It is the angriest animal in the world, by all accounts, and has both the teeth and the bulk to back it up. Hippos can bite crocodiles in half. They can definitely bite canoes in half, and regularly do. Basically, they will bite anything that gets near them in half. Don’t be that guy.

What is the root of wrath? Adrenaline and testosterone, mainly. The hormone that makes males males is also responsible for fueling unchecked aggression. And the hippo has the highest constant level of testosterone of any animal alive; it is always angry. Testosterone is what makes any male challenge another male, and when that male loses, a precipitous drop in testosterone is what makes it run away to fight another day. Hormones, not just size, determine a fight’s outcome. Beachmaster hippos, the leaders of the pod and owners of all mating rights, have the disgusting habit of spraying fecal matter everywhere in the water, spinning their tails like propellers to achieve maximum spray, because their feces carries testosterone in it, warning other males, Don’t even bother. I’m not only bigger, I’m angrier. Chemically.

What happens when testosterone goes unchecked? When the clashes between males don’t achieve one clear winner, and thus the level of testosterone in losing males doesn’t drop? One example would be found in the rituals of the Topi antelope of Africa. Unlike the hippo, whose aggression is fueled by the paucity of fresh water and therefore breeding grounds, the Topi inhabits the wide open plains. While hippos establish a beachmaster that has first rights to all females, the Topi have no leader and simply clash horns for a more central patch of land. What happens next is a portrait of true, senseless wrath: the rage consumes them first, and then the scavengers finish the job.


About quantumbiologist

Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

One response to “Wrath

  • Ernie Brill

    I dont mean to horn in, but, regarding the hippo spraying excrement, is how we got the expression “the shit flies” or was it some other event or venue?
    And, are hippos sworn to attack? Does this then involve the hippocratic oath ( something like,
    “Fuckin’ H!)
    All in all, it’s a meaty subject that could accost a nonobservant person an arm and a leg, even though the monster is an herbivore. Who knew?

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