Spotted hyenas are the only species of hyena with spots. They have a sturdy build, high shoulders, and long muscular legs. Their bodies tend to slope toward less developed hindquarters though this is not very noticeable when the animal is taking an aggressive stance.
Spotted hyenas are reddish-brown to tan in coloration. As spotted hyenas grow older their spots fade and their fur color becomes lighter. Spotted hyenas have a large head with broad, rounded ears. They have very strong teeth and jaw muscles that are used to crush bones when they eat.
They are one of the more efficient carnivores and eat virtually all parts of their prey. Spotted hyenas are very adaptable and seem to have no problem living in area of high human habitation.
Spotted hyenas tend to eat wildebeests, gazelles and other ungulates, young rhinos, and zebra. Spotted hyenas can eat about 32 pounds of food at one time. They seldom eat invertebrates, fruits, and vegetables.
Spotted hyenas are found through out Africa south of the Sahara with the exception of the Congo basin. Spotted hyenas primarily live on flat, grassy plains with few or no trees. However, within its vast range they can be found in many varied climates from hot, arid low-lying areas to cold portions in the mist forests of East Africa.
In general spotted hyenas have no predators. However, both lions and wild dogs will attack hyenas when they find one alone.
Spotted hyenas live in large communities called clans that can consist of as many as 100 animals. These clans are matriarchal. There are some key differences between spotted hyenas and other social carnivores. Spotted hyenas compete more and cooperate less than other social carnivores.
Females are bigger than males and are constantly competing with each other for rank and food. Though cubs are raised in communaldens they are rarely provisioned or protected by any hyena other than their mother. Also, male hyenas play no role in raising offspring and are usually not allowed near the dens. Spotted hyena clans are very territorial and vigorously defend them from other groups of hyenas.
The common perception of spotted hyenas is that they are cowardly scavengers. However, they are capable of running down and killing an adult bull wildebeest unaided. The common perception comes from the fact that spotted hyenas will always take the path of least resistance. They would rather scavenge or steal their food instead of hunting for it.
Most hunting is done alone but groups will occasionally band together to hunt or try to intimidate other predators into leaving their kills. Spotted hyenas are very vocal animals with calls that range from greetings to indicators of aggressive intent. They are known as the laughing hyena due to the call given by a hyena that is being attacked or chased.
Birth & Offspring
Young spotted hyenas are raised in a communalden but there is not communal care. Young spotted hyenas are very well developed at birth with some incisors and canine teeth, open eyes, and the capability of directed movement with their forelimbs. Within hours after birth, fights for dominance begin between same sex offspring.
The loser of these fights often dies. Two to six weeks after birth they are moved into a communal den. Most cubs will start to eat meat at 7 to 8 months of age but the ability is present at 3 months. The only cubs that get to eat meat this early are those that belong to the ranking female hyenas. Young spotted hyenas become competent hunters at about 1.5 years old.
Spotted hyenas have excellent senses of hearing and smell.
Lydia King is a huge animal lover and has always been fascinated with learning about the animal kingdom. She enjoys writing about anything animal related from scientific information about rare species to animal references in pop culture.