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March 18th, 2019

Amazing Facts About Fiona’s Teeth

Category: dental health

Amazing Facts about Fiona's Teeth

“Fionamania”—which is a term coined by the New York Times—has really swept the nation.

The term is used to describe the interest in our very own a hippopotamus, Fiona, who was born at the Cincinnati Zoo back in January of 2017.

Fiona is a Nile hippo and she was the first of her kind to be born at our zoo in 75 years, meaning she’s quite the special hippo. Because she was born prematurely, they weren’t sure if she would make it, but thanks in part to the support by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, she is still here today.

About Our Zoo’s Famous Hippo Fiona

Photo credit: This image used above of Fiona was captured at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, in Cincinnati, Ohio by DarthBotto.

Fiona is what we think of as the common, or large, hippo, which is also the most abundant species of hippo today. The other kind of species of hippo is called pygmy hippos. Unlike Fiona’s species, these are endangered.

Based on estimates from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there are as many as 130,000 wild common hippos in the world. Conservations say that the population is considered relatively stable, but that could change in the future. The only other known species of hippos are the smaller pygmy hippos, which are endangered (1).

Garnering Media Attention

Since she was born about 6 weeks premature, that made our beloved Fiona the smallest hippo ever to survive such a birth. That’s part of why her remarkable story has brought her so much fame and attention. To get an idea of her growth and her size, she took her first steps when she weighed about 275 pounds. That’s when she was first introduced to nation-wide media, catching the attention and love of many.

By the time she was one, she weighed more than 655 pounds. Fast-forward to December of 2018 and she was about a third of the way toward being a full-grown female hippo, in terms of weight and size.

That’s right: she was at 1,000 out of the eventual 3,000 pounds! As you might guess, that milestone also brought about celebration in social media!

cincinnati zoo twitter

As her fans grew, so did her following on social media. In fact, several videos and photos of Fiona went viral in those early days, including a couple’s photograph of Fiona watching them get engaged in October of 2017.

Already a social media sensation, she became star of her own show “The Fiona Show” on Facebook as well. She’s also had a children’s book written about her, a mural designed for her, and she’s even appeared in Cincinnati Ballet’s production of Nutcracker, played by a 6’4″ dancer where she was said to have stolen the show (2)!

Fiona may get a great deal of attention in the news and in social media, but let’s take some time to look into something that may not often be talked about…that is, her remarkable mouth and teeth! 

Fiona’s Mouth & Teeth

hippos teeth and mouthsIf you think about it, part of what makes Fiona (and any hippo!) recognizable is her mouth and their teeth. All hippos have that barrel-shaped torso, and their wide-opening mouths that show off those large canine tusks!

In fact, their mouths can open 150 degrees, typically, as shown above!

Their mouth’s huge size also makes them more easily distinguished or identified, but their teeth and mouth are also quite unique and amazing! It’s no wonder the Cincinnati Zoo features impressive video and photos that show off Fiona’s massive mouth, just like the one above…

Back when Fiona was first born and was starting to gain weight and make progress, she struggled during feeding times. She would bite or chew on anything she could; her little tusks in her mouth were causing her discomfort, just like teeth coming in also do for a baby!

The issue was this: as explained by the Cincinnati Zoo, teething at that point really shouldn’t have been happening quite yet, so they had to help her and support her through the pain.

With the support and tube feedings and round the clock care, despite a few ups and downs along the way, they helped feed her despite the challenges they faced at that time (6)!

When fully grown, Hippo’s huge mouths consist of lips that are about 2 feet wide. Just how large and impressive are those teeth? Well, their teeth that can bite a 10-foot crocodile in half! Hippos can open their mouths about 4 feet wide, in many cases. And yes, when doing so, it’s not easy to ignore those powerful, large tusk-like canines and razor-sharp incisors that you see! (4)

Young hippos typically have 32 milk teeth. These include incisors, canine, and premolars on each half of the jaw, on both sides. Adult hippos have 36 teeth. These include 2 incisors, 1 canine, 3 premolars and 3 molars on each half of the jaw, on both sides.

With that said, adult hippos can retain some of their milk teeth even years after their adult teeth come in, some hippos can have more teeth—even as many as 40 teeth, for a few years. The largest teeth, which would be the canines, are commonly referred to as tusks.

The front incisors are commonly referred to as fighting tusks. These would be what would do major damage to a predator if they were to fight! (3).

Under the attention and care of the zookeepers, Fiona is able to get her teeth cleaned. Here’s a popular video that shows her incisor tusks peeking through on top at the time during a dental check-up…hey, who knew Fiona was just like us! Take a look and see:

As shown, you can see Fiona enjoys the dental check and mouth massage while the dental staff checks the health of her mouth and teeth. It seems she really does love those regular massages she receives, as shown here, too.

fiona teeth care

Other Hippo Behaviors

We may love our Fiona, but hippos are actually…well, dangerous, and they can be quite unpredictable in the wild!

Take for example how in Africa, they are responsible for more deaths than any other mammal. They can show aggression when they need to defend their territory from other hippos or when they need to defend their space from other predators. That’s obviously not quite an issue in a zoo environment, but as she increases in size, staff will have to change how they interact with her.

One question many have is, why do hippos open their mouths as they do? Opening their mouth the distinct way they do is not just by chance. When showing aggression or when facing an aggressor, they will actually do so with their mouths open. At the same time, a female will keep her massive mouth open if and when she is protecting her young.

They can also open their mouths wide and toss their heads to display other expressions and emotions, not just aggression. According to the Cincinnati Zoo, when Fiona opens her mouth and tosses her head back and forth, that can be translated as: “Back off! I need my space” to “Let’s play!” and it can even mean, “Who’s in charge here?” This behavior may be fine between hippos, but as she continues to grow, that behavior will certainly be watched when dealing with the zookeepers (4, 5, 6)!

Supporting You & Your Family’s Health at Hagen Dental

At Hagen Dental, we support your total health—including your oral health. Visit us online here to schedule or call us at (513) 251-5500.

Sources used directly in this blog:

  7. Photo credit:

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