Class: Mammalia (all mammals)
Order: Carnivora (all carnivores)
Family: Hyaenidae (hyenas and
This species is found in a variety of habitats: savanna, open forest, dense dry forest, mountain, and semi-desert. It is not found in extreme desert conditions, the highest mountain elevations, or the tropical jungles of Africa and Asia.
Although hyenas physically resemble wild dogs, they are not canids. They belong to a different family and are most closely related to mongooses and meerkats.
Spotted hyenas are the largest of four hyena species. Weight varies from 75 -190 lbs. (34-86 kg). Shoulders 2.5 – 3 ft. (76-91 cm), body length IS from 4 to 5 ft. (122-152 cm) and tails are 10 – 14 in. (25-36 cm) long. Female hyenas are slightly larger than males.
The coat is short and coarse, different in color from sandy yellow to grey/brown with black or dark brown spots.
The front legs are longer than the back legs, giving the back a sloping appearance. The legs have four non-retractable claws on the broad toe pads.
Strong jaw muscles are attached to a prominent sagittal crest (bony crest on the skull), giving them one of the most powerful bites for an animal of its size– 1100 lbs. per square inch (compare human’s 162 psi).
Mostly active during the night, excellent vision and hearing.
Females have external genitalia that resembles those of males, making it difficult to visually distinguish females from males.
Although they are often described as scavengers, they are very intelligent and skilled hunters, obtaining 50 – 90% of their food from direct prey. However, they are not picky eaters and feed on carrion, bones, and vegetables, and can eat up to 35 pounds. meat in one fell swoop.
They live in groups called clans of less than 10 and up to 100. They usually hunt large prey in groups, with larger clans dividing into smaller packs of hunters. Individuals may hunt alone when hunting smaller prey.
Hyenas live in a complex matriarchal society in which all females are dominant over males. There is also a strict hierarchy among females and among males in a clan. Females dominate hunts and females and their cubs eat before the males.
Hyenas live into their mid-teens in the wild and into their twenties in captivity on average. Maturity is around three years, with females becoming sexually mature later than males. Mating is polygamous and is controlled by females.
The gestation period is 110 days and typical liters are usually one to three young, of which only two usually survive. Puppies are well developed at birth, weighing around two pounds, with black fur, small teeth, and open eyes. Each mother nurses her own puppies.
Weaning takes place between 12 and 18 months and puppies start eating small amounts of meat within 5 months. The young inherit their lower social rank than that of their mother. The females stay with their original group and the males leave to join other clans.
Large social groups help provide shelter, food, and survival.
The large frontal cortex of your brain is associated with superior problem-solving skills.
Strong jaws, teeth, and digestion allow them to eat whole carcasses, including skin, hooves, horns, hair, and bones.
More than 11 distinct sounds including yells, howls, cackles, and a “whoop” that is sounding like a laugh to humans. Some sounds are loud enough to be heard several miles away. A complex set of postures are also used in communication with other hyenas.
To mark their territory, their anal glands produce a pungent substance chemically unique to each individual. Urine and feces are also used to mark territory, sometimes depositing feces in a communal “latrine” at the edge of their territory.
Large hearts and lungs allow them to run at speeds of up to 60 km/h in search of prey.
People hunt hyenas for meat, skins, and body parts for medicinal purposes. Although they are rarely intimidated or hunted, they are killed in fights for prey by their main competitors, the lions.