Brief Overview: The Hyena is a special four-legged mammal that looks, and acts, like both a cat and dog. However, it does not belong to either canine (dog) or feline (cat) families. The hyena is part of its own unique family called Hyaenidae,which translates from Cebuano, a language in the Philippines.
Species and Appearance: There are currently four species of hyena existing: the striped hyena, the brown hyena, the spotted hyena, and the aardwolf hyena. Depending on the species, a hyena’s size can range from two to six feet in length and their average weight can be between 17 – 120 pounds. The smallest of the species is the aardwolf hyena with a length of two to three feet and can weigh between 17 – 60 pounds. The spotted hyena is the largest with a length of four to six feet and can weigh anywhere from 70 – 120 pounds.
Habitats and Locations: The hyena can be found in the central and northeastern parts of Africa, some parts in the middle east, and throughout Asia all the way to Serbia. Within these lands hyena’s habitats include diverse areas such as savannahs, grasslands, plains, mountains, sub-deserts, and forests edges.
Survival and Behavior: The spotted hyena is also the most well-known for the sound it makes similar to laughter, or giggles. A spotted hyena’s laugh can be heard from up to three miles away. Hyenas are both hunters and scavengers. They are known to steal food from other animals and sometimes prefer to do this rather than hunt for themselves. However, when a hyena does hunt it will often be successful. When together, the hyenas will surround the animal and chase it from all directions. With this method they are able to attack animals much larger than themselves. Depending on the species, a group of hyenas are able to eat a bigger animal in just half an hour. They have very strong jaws with a bite that is almost twice as strong as a lion’s bite. Their jaws are so strong, in fact, that they could bite through bone, teeth, and horns and even eat them. A hyena’s stomach is so strong, it can digest anything no matter how old, hard, or rotten the meat is. One crazy fact about a spotted hyena is that their heart, depending on the size, can make up to 10% of their body weight. This allows them to pump more blood letting them run up to 40 miles an hour for two miles while chasing its prey. Although hyenas are small compared to other animals, they are the most common and most successful hunters in Africa. Should hyenas hunt and live together in groups they are called clans which can range in size from 5 to 80 members. An interesting note is that the clans are ruled by females because they grow much bigger than the males, are stronger, and much more dominant. The females even have more testosterone than males which is very rare in nature to see.
Diet and Predators: Spotted hyenas are carnivores which means they only eat meat. If a hyena hunts a small prey it will go after it alone; but if the prey is bigger, like zebras, gazelles, or wildebeests, then hyenas will travel in groups or packs. The striped hyena and brown hyena are omnivores, meaning they can survive on plants and meat, while the aardwolf hyena mostly eats insects.
Breeding and Lifespan: The mating season for a hyena is known to be one of the most unusual types of breeding. It only occurs during a wet season and could last from three days to two weeks depending on the female. However, once pregnant, it takes a little more than three months for the babies to be born. A baby hyena is known as a cup and the mother can give birth to an average two to four cups per pregnancy. The average lifespan for hyenas is 10 – 12 years in the wild and can be up to 25 years in captivity.