KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
ORDER: Carnivora (Carnivores)
FAMILY: Hyaenidae (Hyenas)
SUB-FAMILY: Hyaeninae (Hyenas)
GENUS: Crocuta (Spotted Hyena)
SPECIES: Crocuta crocuta (Spotted Hyena)
Spotted hyenas are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, except for the Congo rainforests and the far south. Its distribution is now patchy in many areas.
Spotted hyenas have a dog-like appearance, with high shoulders, sloping down to the back legs. The wooly, coarse fur is yellow-brown or grey, with dark spots on the flanks, rump and legs. These hyenas have a flat and wide head with large, rounded ears. The muzzle, nose, eyes and lips are dark. Females are larger than males.
Spotted hyenas prefer open, dry habitats including semi-desert, savannah, acacia bush, and mountainous forest habitats.
Spotted hyenas are carnivores (meat-eaters) and they will eat wildebeest, zebra, Thompson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, topi, kongoni, waterbuck, eland, Cape buffalo, impala, Warthog, hare, springhare, ostrich eggs, bat-eared fox, golden jackal, porcupine and termites. They also prey on the young of many animals. Although they have a reputation as scavengers, 70% of their diet is made up of direct kills.
Spotted hyenas are very intelligent and have a complex social system. They live in groups, called clans, of up to 80 individuals. Clan members will frequently wander alone or in small groups, and the whole clan is only rarely seen together. All females are dominant over all males. Even the alpha male is lower in rank than the least dominant female. Females will stay in their natal clan, whilst males will leave when they reach sexual maturity. Spotted hyena clans occupy specific territories and each clan will defend its territory against other clans.
Spotted hyenas are polygynous (males will have more than one female mate at a time). Female hyenas decide who to mate with. Males perform a bowing display to females before mating.
Due to the female’s overly masculine reproductive organs, mating is difficult and males cannot force themselves on females. Immigrant males seem to be preferred over natal males.
After a gestation period of about 4 months, one or two cubs are born. Female hyenas are excellent mothers, whilst males don’t play a parental role. Cubs are almost completely black and are born with their eyes open. They will be weaned at 12-16 months but will start eating meat at about 9 months. Independence is only reached at about 18 months old, and sexual maturity at three years. They can live up to about 40 years old.
Spotted hyenas have shown intelligence comparitive to that of primates. They can perform complex tasks without prior training, and will even help each other accomplish tasks. Furthermore, Spotted hyenas use various methods of communication, including touch, scent, visual and vocal communication. They have a complex set of postures used in communication. This hyena also has an extensive vocal range, with sounds ranging from whoops, fast whoops, grunts, groans, lows, giggles, yells, growls, soft grunt-laughs, loud grunt-laughs, whines and soft squeals.
Hyenas are one of the top predators in Africa, and aren’t preyed on by many species. Lions and hyenas compete for food, and clashes may result in fatalities.
Threats faced by hyenas include human trapping, shooting, poisoning, and snaring, as well as habitat loss. When hyenas are assumed to have killed livestock, they are persecuted by humans.
Did you know?
- The social life of a clan is centered around the communal den
- Spotted hyaenas perform a phallic inspection as a greeting
- Spotted hyenas are the largest of the hyena species
- Females are more aggressive than males