Hyenas are large, dog-like, carnivores.
Hyenas are not members of the dog or cat families. Instead, they are so unique that they have a family all their own, Hyaenidae.
Hyenas have an average lifespan of 12 years, but they can live up to 25 years.
There are four members of the Hyaenidae family: the striped hyena, the “giggly” spotted hyena, the brown hyena, and the aardwolf (it’s a hyena, not a wolf).
Hyenas vary in size.
The largest are spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) with 1.2 to 1.8 meters (4 to 5.9 feet) in body length, and have a shoulder height of 77 to 81 centimeters (2.5 to 2.6 feet). They weigh 40 to 86 kilograms (88 to 190 pounds).
Brown hyenas (Hyaena brunnea) are the second largest, ranging from 130 to 160 centimeters (51 to 63 inches) long and weighing 34 to 72.6 kilograms (75 to 160 pounds)
The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is 100 to 115 centimeters (39 to 45 inches) long and 66 to 75 centimeters (26 to 30 inches) tall from paw to shoulder.Their tails add another 30 to 40 centimeters (12 to 16 inches) and they weigh from 26 to 41 kilograms (57 to 90 pounds).
The smallest are aardwolves (Proteles cristata) with length ranges from 85 to 105 centimeters (33 to 41 inches) — and about one-fourth of that is the tail. They weigh from 17.6 to 30.8 lbs. (8 to 14 kg).
Spotted hyenas are very social and live in groups called clans. Clans can have up to 80 members; Once thought to be solitary, striped hyenas actually live in small groups. However, they forage alone; Although often solitary in their habits, brown hyenas will form clans of up to 10 members; Aardwolves have often been mistaken for solitary animals. In fact, they live as monogamous pairs with their young.
Hyenas are primarily nocturnal animals, but sometimes venture from their lairs in the early-morning.
Spotted hyenas may kill as many as 95% of the animals they eat, while striped hyenas and brown hyenas are largely scavengers. Aardwolves are insectivores, and they mainly eat termites.
Hyenas use various sounds, postures and signals to communicate with each other.
Spotted hyenas “laugh” as a form of communication to relay excitement or frustration. This vocalization can often be heard during a hunt.
Matting typically happens outside of the clan. Non-related males and females will mate after a courtship that can last several days. Hyenas usually bear litters of two to four cubs, which, unlike the other two species, are born with their eyes open.
Cubs begin to eat meat from kills near the den at about 5 months, but they are suckled for as long as 12 to 18 months, an unusually long time for carnivores. At around 2 years, the cubs are considered mature and ready to leave their mother.
Female spotted hyenas are more muscular and more aggressive than their male counterparts. This is because the females have three times as much testosterone in their bodies. As a result, spotted hyena societies are matriarchal.
The hyena is Africa’s most common large carnivore.
Despite their low diversity, hyenas are unique and vital components of most African ecosystems.
Hyenas and lions often fight over the same territories and hunt the same prey. This leads to fierce competition between the two animals. They steal each other’s food and kill off the young of their enemies.
Hyenas have been on Earth for 24 million years.
A hyena’s heart is twice as large as that of similar-sized mammals.
A spotted hyena can eat up to one third of its body weight at one meal.
Spotted hyenas can run up to 60 kilometers (37 miles) per hour.
Reputed to be cowardly and timid, the hyena can be bold and dangerous, attacking animals and humans.
Among hyenas, only the spotted and striped hyenas have been known to become man-eaters.
In ancient Egypt hyenas were domesticated and even eaten!
Hyenas feature prominently in the folklore and mythology of human cultures with which they are sympatric (two species or populations exist in the same geographic area). Hyenas are commonly viewed as frightening and worthy of contempt, and are associated with witchcraft, because their body parts are used as ingredients in traditional medicine. In some cultures, hyenas are thought to influence people’s spirits, rob graves, and steal livestock and children.
The size of an animal’s frontal cortex is believed to be connected to its social intelligence, and hyenas have a frontal cortex on par with primates. A study done by Duke University showed that a captive pair of hyenas performed better at problem-solving and social cooperation than chimpanzees. Even more amazing is that during the study, the hyenas solved all the problems in silence, using only non-verbal signals for communication.
Hyenas are featured in Disney’s animated features, such as Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, Noah’s Ark, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Lion King.
The striped hyena is mentioned in the Bible.