The spotted hyenas are large carnivores that roam much of the African continent. They are able, opportunistic predators and successful scavengers who have evolved to develop very useful hunting tools for these purposes. Read on to delve deeper into their physical features, behavioral characteristics including personality, and life-history.
Table of Contents
Spotted Hyena Scientific Classification
Table Of Content
Table of Contents
Physical Description & Appearance
Size: They reach lengths of around 37.4-65.35 in (95-166 cm).
Weight: Males are 99.2-132.2 lb (45-60 kg), and females are 121.2-154.3 (55-70 kg).
Color: They have brown or black spots on a gray, buff or yellow colored, coarse and wooly coat.
Teeth: They have one of the strongest bite forces among carnivores, aided by their powerfully built skull, strong jaw muscles, and dentition.
Despite their population decline, the spotted hyena is commonly seen in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and a host of other sub-Saharan countries.
They are well adapted to live in savanna, semi-desert, mountainous forests, and acacia bushes at heights of as much as 13,000 ft.
- Spotted hyenas live in a matriarchal hierarchy with the females asserting dominance over the males, in large social groupings called ‘clans.’ Males leave their birth clans once they mature, while the females stay on.
- These clans, however, can only be seen in its entirety during feeding on big kills, defending their territory or at community dens.
- Spotted hyenas go out to forage individually or in small groups.
- Lower ranked females in a clan usually associate with the alpha female in a bid to receive preferential treatment.
- Greeting ceremonies between members of the same clan involve two individuals standing parallel to each other facing opposite directions and raising their hind legs and grooming each other’s anogenital parts.
- These nocturnal species are also active during the day.
- Spotted hyenas are territorial, living in areas ranging from 15 sq. miles to 400 sq. miles (40-1,040 sq. km), marking the edges of the territories through the usage of a communal latrine system.
- If a litter consists of cubs of the same gender, one sibling often kills the other to get a major portion of the available food.
Mating & Reproduction
The breeding system that spotted hyenas follow is polygynous. During the mating ritual, the males maintain a timid personality, scampering off at the slightest bit of aggression shown from the female spotted hyenas. They do not have a specific mating season, their gestation period lasting for about four months.
Usually, a litter of 1-4 well-developed spotted hyena cubs, are born after the long gestation with their eyes open. Two to six weeks after their birth they are taken from their burrow of birth to their communal den. They are weaned from their mother’s exceptionally nutritious milk when they are about 14-18 months old.
They reach sexual maturity between two and three years.
The average spotted hyena survives for around 20 years in the wild. One individual in captivity lived for 41 years.
Sounds and Communication
These animals have a broad and varied range of vocal communications. They use squeals and groans to greet each other, a whooping sound as a contact call that gets faster and less spaced-out to express excitement after a kill. Other sounds include growling, grunting, and yelling.
Do spotted hyenas laugh
The most striking part of their vocal repertoire is a giggling sound which resembles a loud hysterical human-like laughing. It is, however, not made out of pleasure, but is said to be exhibited by an individual on being chased or under duress.
Spotted hyenas are often mislabeled as scavengers but in fact up to about 70% of their diet comprises of kills that it has made, while only 30% made of scavenging other’s kills. They have been known to eat a wide variety of animals, including zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, Thompson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle Cape buffalo, impala, warthog, hare, ostrich eggs, golden jackals, bat-eared foxes, and porcupines.
- The spotted hyena can run at speeds of up to 37 miles/hour (60 km/hour), a locomotion trait developed from years of chasing down their prey, who are all nimble.
- They a keen sense of smell, sight, and sound, helping them track their prey closely until the final charge.
- The digestive system has grown strong enough to process carrion.
- The presence of a relatively large amount of frontal cortex in their brain may contribute towards their high level of intelligence, making them adept at problem-solving as well as of a more sly and cunning nature than other apex predators of Africa.
The main enemies of the spotted hyena in the wild are lions, with both of them competing for food in their shared habitat. In fact, an encounter between the two may result in the hyena’s death.
Brown Hyena vs. Spotted Hyena
Brown hyenas have shaggy, long and brown pelage, while most spotted hyenas have spots on a flat gray fur.
IUCN Conservation Status
The IUCN has listed the spotted hyena under the ‘Least Concern’ category.
- It is the only mammal in the world lacking a vaginal opening, with the female genitalia being a pseudo-penis, just as the male’s having the ability to erect, thus making them hermaphrodites.
- Its round-shaped ears make it unique among hyenas.
- Studies have proved them to surpass chimpanzees regarding exhibiting cooperative problem-solving skills.