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Hyena h.jpg
Scientific Classification
Spotted Hyena

The hyena is best known as an aggressive scavenger. It can weigh up to 190 pounds, and has jaws that can crush and grind through incredible materials. They are very unlike other animals in the way that the female is more dominant than the male, and weighs more. Humans come into frequent contact with hyenas in and around Africa and Asia, and that has led to mutual predation[1]. They range anywhere from 2 to 3 feet tall, and are known as skilled beasts who can take down wildebeest or antelope[2]. They will only do this though if there are no dead food sources around them. They look like a dog, but are actually more like a cat. There are four main species of hyenas with the last one being unlike the other three in looks and size.


Hyena with Masai warriors in the background

The hyena looks like a large dog. Its front legs are longer than its back ones, so that the animal is sloped downward. The hyena is Africa's most common carnivore that is large[3]. Spotted hyenas are the most common type of hyena, and are 28 to 35 inches tall and weigh 90 to 190 pounds. The spotted females usually outweigh the males by about three pounds. Spotted hyenas make a variety of sounds like wailing calls, howling screams, and the well-known "laughter," which is used to alert other hyenas in their clan of a food source[4]. Their lifespan is around 25 years in captivity, and longer in the wild where they are more at home. The main animal that preys upon the hyena is the lion[5]. There are four species of hyena which are spotted, brown, striped, and the aardwolf. Most hyenas are usually nocturnal, and use their tails to signal what they are about to do. Hyenas are not related to dogs, although they look a little like them and have some similar greeting ceremonies. Hyenas have big ears that are very good for hearing, and have superb night-sight. Hyenas can either be spotted, striped, or brownish in color.


Brown Hyena cub
Hyenas live in clans of up to eighty members, and are headed up by females. Breeding can happen at any time of the year. Both brown and striped species produce 2 to 4 helpless cubs after a gestation period of around 90 to 92 days. Cubs have similar coloration as adults, and are born with their eyes open[6]. Up until one year cubs are left in the den with a babysitter, but after that they follow their mother on hunting and scavenging expeditions. Cubs begin to eat meat at around five months, and are suckled for as long as 12 to 18 months. Adults and sub-adults carry food back to the den for the cubs, and brown hyenas are known to nurse unrelated infants[7]. Group members might sometimes share a big kill, but will rarely eat together because of competition. Hyenas are not very sociable with one another and only in rare instances forage in twos.


Hyenas eating a dead animal from a previous kill in a river.

Hyenas live in a couple of different biomes like grasslands, plains, savanna, woodlands, mountains, thorn bush, and stony desert regions throughout northern and eastern Africa, Arabia, Asia Minor and India. They have to stay about 6 miles within a water source when they scavenge because water is very important to them[8]. They can go several days without water, but at the end of those days they need to restock on water. Hyenas are scavengers and omnivores and often dine on the leftovers of other predators. But these dog-like beasts are also skilled hunters that will take down wildebeest or antelope. They also kill and eat birds, lizards, snakes, and insects. Sometimes they will eat fruit which is a good source of water. Some campers even said they ate some aluminum pots and pans[9]. Sometimes even the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania leave their dead to be consumed by hyenas. When hyenas find food they "laugh", which is a call to other clan members to come and eat.

Important Facts

In ancient Egypt hyenas were sometimes domesticated and raised as a food source[10]. - The hyena can communicate many things through positioning its tails in different ways. - In one feeding frenzy situation, a spotted hyena can eat up to about one third of its whole body weight. - Striped hyenas are now rare due to a lot of hunting and habitat destruction[11]. - Brown and striped hyenas communicate through scent markings deposited on grasses from their anal pouches. - Hyenas eat a lot of dry bones, but need very little water[12]. - Spotted hyenas are the largest of the four, some think three, species of hyenas. - Hyenas appear closely related to dogs, but are actually more related to cats[13]. - Hyenas sometimes eat each other and eat others from other tribes if they get really hungry. - The smallest hyena is the aardwolf, which is an insectivore. - Indigestible items such as hooves, horns, ligaments and hair are regurgitated in pellets when hyenas eat.