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Rocking Around the Animal Kingdom: Lesser Known Animal Holiday Songs

This post was written by Science Reference Specialist Ashley Cuffia.

The holiday season brings holiday music. We hear it playing everywhere we go.  It’s on the radio in our cars, playing through the speakers in stores, and in the background when we get together with our family and friends. Animals are a big theme in these songs, with the reindeer always getting the spotlight.

This holiday season we are showcasing some of the lesser known songs that highlight animals that don’t usually get attention during this season- the hippopotamus, donkey, and blue crab. What better way to learn about these animals than by a catchy holiday tune?

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, written by John Rox and released in 1953, tells the story of a little girl whose dearest wish is to wake up Christmas morning and see a hippo waiting for her by the Christmas tree. She explains through its lyrics why she feels this is a good idea and gives some information about hippos as well.

Hippopotamus in the water. Courtesy: National Science Foundation. Photo Credit: Kaitlin Vandewalle. https://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.jsp?med_id=78586&from

  • Family Name: Hippopotamidae
  • Scientific Name: 2 Species of Hippopotamuses: Hippopotamus amphibius and Hexaprotodon liberiensis. The information below is about the species of hippo mentioned in the song, which is Hippopotamus amphibius.
  • Weight: 1.4 to 5 tons
  • Size: 6 to 16.5 feet long and 5 feet tall.
  • Life Span: Can live up to 50 years in the wild.
  • Diet: Mostly consists of grass growing on the riverbanks and lakeshores around where they live.

Fun Facts:

  • The name hippopotamus or hippo comes from a Greek word meaning water or river horse. This is misleading as they are not related to horses at all, but more to pigs and whales.
  • With their eyes, nose, and ears on top of their heads, hippos spend the day mostly submerged in water, keeping themselves cool from the sun. They have also adapted to have natural goggles on their eyes. These consist of a clear membrane over their eyes which enables them to see underwater.
  • Hippos spend much of their lives in water and get around by bouncing off the river floor and sinking back down. This sometime looks like they are skipping across the bottom of the river.
  • Hippos live in family groups that usually range from 10 to 30, but herds of 200 have been found in the wild.
  • Hippos are also one of the loudest animals in Africa. Some of the sounds that they make are so loud, they are the equivalent of standing less than 15 feet away from the speaker at a rock concert.

Learn More about Hippos:

Dominick the Donkey, written by Ray Allen, Sam Saltzberg and Wandra Merrell, was recorded in 1960 and tells the story of a little donkey whose job it is to help Santa deliver gifts to the children of Italy because reindeer are unable to climb the Italian hills.

An adorable donkey in a field. //www.loc.gov/item/2014632725/

  • Scientific Name: Equus asinus 
  • Weight: 180 pounds to 1100 pounds.
  • Size:  about 6.5 feet long and 4.2 to 5.5 feet tall.
  • Life Span: 25 to 30 years, but some have been found to be over 50 years old.
  • Diet:  Straw, hay, and grass.

Fun Facts:

  • Donkeys are strong, curious, and intelligent creatures that live across the planet and even though they can be the same size as a horse, they are a lot stronger.
  • They also have amazing memories. Τhey can recognize an area, people, and other animals that they have not seen in 25 years.
  • They have a reputation for being stubborn, but this is due to their highly developed sense of self preservation. If they don’t feel that doing something is in their best interest, there is nothing that you can do to change their minds.
  • They are a very social animal and in the wild live in family herds that are very protective. Their protective instinct is so strong that many farmers will mix them in with a herd of sheep or goats and they act as a type of security guard for the herd, alerting them to danger and holding off predators so the herd can escape.
  • If a male donkey is bred with a female horse, they will have a mule, which carries the best characteristics of both animals.

Learn More about Donkeys:

Crabs for Christmas, music and lyrics by John DeBoy, released in 1981, is a radio tradition in Baltimore, Maryland, where blue crabs are a delicacy, just as crayfish in Louisiana and lobster in Maine. The song is about a man from Maryland telling a Santa in Texas that all he wants for Christmas is crabs. The song explains why crabs would remind him of home at this time of year.

Blue crab in the sand. Courtesy: National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/pais/learn/nature/blue_crab.htm

  • Scientific NameCallinectes sapidus.
  • Weight:  1 to 2 pounds.
  • Size: 9 inches from claw tip to claw tip.
  • Life Span: Between 3 and 4 years.
  • Diet: Will eat almost anything, including clams, oysters, mussels, smaller crustaceans, freshly dead fish, and even smaller or soft-shelled blue crabs.

Fun Facts:

  • Blue crabs are found in brackish or salt and fresh water mixed coastal inlets and bays, ranging from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • A male will mate with a female only after she has completed her final molt, and she has a soft shell. The female will only mate once in her lifetime and will lay up to two million eggs.
  • Blue crabs grow by shedding their hard exoskeleton, which is called molting, to expose a new larger soft exoskeleton.
  • Males and females are easily distinguished by the shape of the abdomen, referred to as their “apron,” and by color differences in their claws. Ιn males the abdomen is long and slender, while wide and rounded in mature females and triangular in young females. Crabbers can tell right away if they get to keep their catch by flipping the crab over and looking at its belly.

Learn More about Blue Crabs:

We hope you learned a bit more about these amazing animals and also discovered some new songs to add to your holiday play list.  Τhe donkey, blue crab, and hippopotamus may inspire you to seek out other animal holiday favorites and maybe one of them can finally give good old Rudolph a run for his money as the reigning holiday song animal.

If you have a favorite lesser known animal-themed holiday song, please share in the comments below.

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Festive snowmen. //www.loc.gov/item/2013630791/

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