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Interesting facts about the spotted hyena

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We found 17 interesting facts about the spotted hyena

Laughing Hyena

The spotted hyena is one of Africa's most recognizable animals, also known as the laughing hyena. It is the largest living member of the hyena family and is physically distinct from other species.

The spotted hyena is an animal with interesting behavior and unique abilities, whose presence in African ecosystems is extremely important for maintaining balance in nature. As a mysterious animal that combines intelligence, strength and hunting ability, it has a bad reputation that causes negative associations among people. Despite this, it remains an enigmatic symbol of African savannas, deserts and forests. 


The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) is a species of carnivorous mammal also called the spotted hyena, spotted hyena, or laughing hyena.

It belongs to the hyena family (Hyaenidae) and hyena subfamily (Hyaeninae) and is the largest living hyena.

The hyena family includes two modern subfamilies:

  • hold up (Protelinae), the only living representative of which is maned protel (Proteles cristatus), also called maned hyena.
  • hyenas (Hyaeninae), including two genera: croquet (Crocuta), the only living representative of which is the spotted hyena. hyena (Hyaena), whose representatives are two species: the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and the brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea).


The spotted hyena was first described in 1777 by the German naturalist Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben.

The spotted hyena's name Crocuta was once thought to come from the Latin word "crocutus", meaning "saffron" (referring to the color of the animal's fur). In fact, the name Krokuta comes from the ancient Greek word Κροκόττας "crocotta", which originally meant golden jackal.

 The earliest mention of the Κροκόττας comes from Strabo's Geography (Strabo's 17 books on geography), where the animal is described as a mixture of a wolf and a dog, found in Ethiopia.


Spotted crocuses are found across large areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Their range extends from the Sahel (the geographic region extending along the southern edge of the Sahara) to South Africa (excluding lowland tropical rainforests). In West Africa, the spotted hyena's distribution is fragmented and the species is rarely found outside protected areas.

The largest populations live in the Serengeti and Kruger national parks in East Africa. They went extinct in some regions, such as Algeria or Central Africa, but are making a comeback in some regions. The first animal in about 50 years was spotted in Ivindo National Park in Gabon at the beginning of the XNUMXth century.


They are not picky about their habitat.

They can be found in savannas, semi-deserts, open forests, and also in mountain forests. In the highlands of Ethiopia, spotted hyenas live at altitudes of up to 4100 m above sea level. These animals avoid open deserts and low-lying tropical forests such as the Congo Basin.

They are not afraid of people; they can be found near villages and other populated areas.


The spotted hyena is the largest living member of the hyena family.

The body length of adult individuals is 125-160 cm, the tail length is 22-27 cm. Height at the withers is 77,3-80,7 cm. Body weight is 45-55 kg, sometimes it can reach 85 kg. Female spotted hyenas are approximately 10% larger than males. Sexual dimorphism here is not very noticeable (females are 2,3% longer than males, have slightly larger skull and chest circumferences) and is regionally differentiated, more pronounced in South Africa.


The spotted croquette has a strong and well-developed neck and forelimbs.

The front legs are longer and stronger than the hind legs, causing the back to tilt backward. The croup is quite rounded, which does not allow the attacker from behind to get a reliable grip. Each foot has four toes equipped with blunt, motionless claws. Spotted hyenas, like all hyenas, can walk on their toes.

The spotted hyena's tail has a thick black tip, with hair extending approximately 12 centimeters beyond the tip of the tail.


The spotted hyena's head is wide and flat, with a blunt muzzle and a wide nose.

This hyena has one of the strongest skulls among predators. The jaws are strong and, due to their structure, can develop a bite force in excess of 9. Newtons (40% more than a leopard can generate). The jaws of the spotted hyena are superior to the jaws of the brown bear in their ability to crush bones.


Fur color is varied and changes with age.

It is relatively short and coarse, and the spotted hyena's long dorsal mane is less pronounced than that of other hyenas. The main color of the fur is from sandy yellow to reddish brown. There are numerous black and dark brown spots on the back, sides and legs.


Hyenas, although similar to dogs, are closer to cats.

One of the most unusual features of the spotted hyena is the masculinization of females. The female's genitals closely resemble the male's. Women do not have a vaginal vestibule or vulva. The clitoris has the shape and position of the penis (pseudopenis) and is capable of erection.

The urogenital canal passes through the pseudopenis, through which the female urinates, copulates and gives birth.


Spotted hyenas are social animals that live in clans.

 The clan usually has from 15 to 80 people. Spotted hyena clans are more compact and cohesive than wolf packs, but not as compact as African wild dog clans.

All clan members know each other, live in a common territory and raise their young in a common cave, but spend a lot of time alone or in small groups (a society based on division and fusion). The territory occupied by a clan usually covers about 50 km2. The clan is usually headed by a woman.


Spotted hyenas do not form strong pair relationships.

Representatives of both sexes can copulate with several partners over several years. Copulation lasts 4–12 minutes and usually occurs at night when there are no other hyenas nearby.

Both sexes get erections when they meet and greet each other enthusiastically.


These animals are highly intelligent.

A 2012 study proves that spotted hyenas can solve puzzles. To achieve their goal, they experiment in different ways, which proves their creative thinking. They can estimate the number of intruders on their territory and attack only when there are a majority of them.

Spotted hyenas plan in advance to hunt specific species; they scent mark before going on a zebra hunt, which does not happen when hunting other species of animals.

They have a keen sense of smell and unique scents that allow them to distinguish themselves from other clans. They also exhibit deceptive behavior, making alarm calls while feeding when no enemies are present. This allows you to scare away other hyenas so that they can eat in peace.


The spotted hyena is primarily a predator, not a scavenger.

This is the most carnivorous representative of hyenas, unlike other hyenas. Spotted hyenas hunt mainly wildebeest, zebras and gazelles. They do not give preference to any species, but rather focus on the weight of the animal. Smaller prey is killed by shaking in the mouth, larger prey is torn into pieces and eaten while still alive.

Their food consists of 60-95% of animals that they hunt themselves, but they also eat carrion and engage in kleptoparasitism, that is, they steal prey from other predators. They locate their prey by sight, hearing or smell. They smell carrion at a distance of up to 10 kilometers.


The efficient digestive system of spotted hyenas means that they can use all parts of the animal's body except fur, and, according to some studies, also hooves and horns.

Thanks to their powerful teeth, they can break even thick bones. A group of 20-30 spotted hyenas can completely engulf a wildebeest, except for small remains, in 13 minutes. These animals eat an average of 1,5 to 3,8 kg of meat per day. However, with a large supply of food, they can consume 18 kg of meat in an hour.

Kleptoparasitism is also practiced by other animals such as jackals, cheetahs, leopards, African wild dogs and other hyenas. However, spotted hyenas' most common food competitors are lions, and food thefts occur in both directions.


Spotted hyenas have a rich repertoire of vocal communication.

The most common sound is a loud “scream” that can be heard over a radius of several kilometers. This sound is used to call clan members to defend territory, to indicate food supplies, or to indicate a threat. Other sounds include "grunts", high-pitched calls from juveniles that signal hunger, and cow sounds that excite group members.

There is also a sound reminiscent of human laughter. Their rich repertoire of laughter is a sophisticated way of communicating. By “chuckling,” spotted hyenas communicate to members of their species their age, position in the pack, and intentions. They let out a terrifying chuckle as they prepare to attack.


Spotted hyenas are rare, but can attack people.

Like most predators, they stay away from humans, keeping a distance of about 300 meters. However, this distance decreases at night when these animals go out to feed. Large hyenas decide to attack people. The pair of man-eating hyenas responsible for killing 27 people in Malawi in 1962 weighed 72 and 77 kilograms when they were shot. The victims are usually women, children, sick and infirm people.

Although attacks on living humans are rare, the spotted hyena readily feeds on human corpses. In Maasai and Hadza traditions, carcasses are left in the open for spotted hyenas to devour. If not eaten, they can cause social shame. Therefore, the carcasses are often covered with the fat and blood of the slaughtered bull.


Spotted hyenas are easy to tame, but difficult to train.

In captivity, where they can live for 15-20 years, they can be destructive. 

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