Hyenas (Hyaenidae) are doglike medium-sized carnivores which have massive skulls and obvious sagittal crest for attachment of extremely dominant jaws; the blunt premolars along with 32 – 34 robust teeth specialized for cracking bones.
Three of the hyena species are known to us: the Brown hyena (Paralnyaena brunnea), the Spotted or laughing hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and probably the largest one, and the Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena).
The spotted hyena inhabits sub-Saharan Africa while the brown one is found in the southern Africa and the striped hyena lives all throughout northeastern Africa, Asia Minor, India, and northern Africa.
Strong powerful jaws, massive heads, and hooked teeth explain a lot about hyena’s behavior and foraging techniques. They can crack even the marrow bones with their powerful teeth. They have large ears and their shoulders being slightly higher than the hindquarters.
They have a 1 foot (30 cm) long tail, and their short steady foot is accompanied with five deeply padded toes. The male spotted hyena may be as long as 6 feet (1.8 meters) in its head-and-body length, stands 3 feet (90 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs up to 200 pounds (90 kg).
Hyena Facts For Kids
- All the three hyena species are distinguishable from each other. The brown hyena displays a dark brown body together with lower legs and greyish neck.
- It has unusually long and dense coat. The gray-and-yellowish brown coat of striped hyena is marked by its black stripes.
- The powerful forepaws are adapted for burrowing meat from caches composed by other carnivores. Both these species are characterized by their long-haired manes.
- The spotted hyena is the largest species of hyena. The short and sparse coat of spotted hyena ranges from yellowish to tawny buff and is marked by brown or black spots. It has mighty jaws in comparison to the overall body size of any extant mammal.
Spotted Hyena Clans
- Hyenas prefer to live in open scrubland, arid, and savanna. Hyenas for the most part of the day spend time in ground holes, in lairs, in caves, and even in thick vegetation.
- Hyenas are almost entirely nocturnal and they seldom hunt by day. Spotted hyenas are usually found in large clans of 100 individuals and have marked their territories by urinating either on trees or simply on ground.
- The females are bigger than the males.
See also: Spotted Hyena Facts
What is the Largest and the Most Aggressive Hyena?
- Spotted Hyena is by far the largest and the most aggressive hyena species. It can chew even the hardest part of its prey with ease and will consume the entire remains of a kill.
- It has the greatest ability to take down its prey and is deemed to be the most advanced living hyena.
- The adult measures around 95 – 165.8 cm (37 – 65.9 inches) in head-and-body length, with the shoulder height averaging 70 – 91.5 cm (28 – 36.0 inches).
- The weight of a male adult is 40.5 – 55.0 kg with females being fairly smaller.
What is the Average Lifespan of Hyenas?
Although hyenas are known to live up to 40 years in captivity, they generally live no more than 20 years in the wild.
Hyenas have Hind Legs Shorter than the Forelimbs
They have short muscular hind legs which are shorter as compared to the forelimbs.
The adult striped hyena weighs up to 22 – 55 kg (49 – 120 lb), with a mean weight of 35 kg (77 lb). The head-and-body length of these species is 85 – 130 cm (33 – 51 inches).
Its hind legs are fairly shorter than the forelimbs thereby causing the back to slope downwards. It is a nocturnal species and it leaves its den only in extreme darkness. Unlike spotted hyenas, striped hyenas are found in small groups of 1 – 2 animals, though up to seven groups are also known.
- Hyena scavenges in the open savanna zones and the arid lands of sub-Saharan Africa; the striped hyenas moves around the forests of North Africa and Asia.
- The population of brown hyena is relatively limited to the southern Africa. The spotted hyena stands dominant among the Africa’s most carnivores but is less adapted to arid conditions.
- Hyenas must spend most their time in walking and running because in open tropical grasslands food, shelter, and water are set apart.
- While they predominantly exist in tropical grasslands, hyenas can also survive in drier habitats. Only a handful number of these species exist in the dry parts of North Africa but are completely absent from the Saharan Desert. Striped hyenas live in East Africa and across North Africa.
- The spotted hyenas are found in mountains and desert areas and are absent from the forested areas of western and central Africa.
- The territory of spotted hyenas often comes into conflict with that of brown hyenas. Both these predators cannot live together and they contend with one another in food and space.
- Brown hyenas occupy a range of southern Africa and in dry areas including Kalahari and Namib deserts. Brown hyenas are sometimes lucky enough to find the dead animals that have died out of thirst of hunger.
- Spotted hyenas are usually found in open plains—tree grassland and also in semi-desert scrubs and bush savannah.
- Striped and brown hyenas, however, do not prefer to live in open tree grasslands rather they fancy living in bush savannah and semi-desert scrub. Unlike, brown and striped hyenas, the spotted ones live in woodlands.
- The striped and brown hyenas are somewhat diurnal in that they often come out in early morning and late afternoon.
Feeding Ecology and Diet
(Hyena Facts For Kids)
- The extreme powerful jaws and hooked teeth of hyenas, combined with the streamlined digestive system makes them vicious scavengers leaving behind no traces of the kill except some drops of blood.
- Their digestive system is adept to dissolve bones too quickly which is why they can chew the remains of large vertebrates within few hours.
- They cannot, however, digest the animal’s hair. Sometimes hyenas are considered scavengers precisely due to their ability to eat what other predators leave uneaten.
- Thanks to the large proportion of bones in their diet because of which they can milkfeed their offspring for a year or longer. Brown and striped hyenas normally store the excess food in thickets while the spotted hyenas cache the prey parts underwater.
- The spotted hyenas are the active predators and they are often found in places where large mammals are few because they fancy killing medium-sized prey.
- Hyenas hunt, sometimes alone, but often in cooperation with their counterparts in packs. They usually believe in ‘Hunting in Pairs.’
- Hyenas primarily hunt medium sized mammals such as steenbok and impala, small vertebrates including steenbok and even smaller, fruits and vegetable matter, insects, and carries the surplus food to its den.
- They also take down large antelopes especially wildebeests. They are scavengers as well as predators. The large mammals include topi.
- The brown and striped hyenas are extremely solitary hunters and scavengers but they seldom take down medium and large sized ungulates. They are classified as Carcass Crushers.
(Hyena Facts For Kids)
Hyenas do not seem to have any special killing technique; rather they employ the death-shake to kill small prey which they usually grab at the back or at neck.
The spotted hyenas, especially, grab the large prey from the back until it gives up. However, it takes time for a single hyena to take down its prey. The more hyenas fall onto the prey, the quicker the animal dies.
The spotted hyenas may not be fast runners but they certainly have lasting stamina which indeed rewards them with a kill.
Which is the Most Noisy Hyena?
While brown and striped hyenas are fairly quiet, spotted hyena is the most vociferous hyena species. The Aardwolf, another member of this family, is relatively quiet but it often growls and barks out of antipredator defense. Hyenas only expose their lower teeth in threat.
Spotted Hyena is often Called ‘Laughing Hyena’
The spotted hyenas often produce whooping noise to communicate with each other which is why they are also known as laughing hyena. It also generates a series of high-pitched sounds when the antelope is in its mouth.
The Brown Hyena is Called ‘Beach Wolf’
The brown hyena is often known as beach wolf as it scavenges dead animals along the coast.