The spotted hyena is the largest member of the Hyaenidae family. The other members of the family are the striped hyena, the brown hyena and the aardwolf. Although a hyena looks like a dog, it is more closely related to a cat.
Like all hyenas, the spotted hyena’s front legs are longer than its back legs, giving its body a distinctive downwards slant. The spotted hyena is similar in size to a wolf, but more powerfully built, and heavier.
Unlike many other mammals, female spotted hyenas are larger than males. They can reach up to 150 cm (60 in) in length, 85 cm (34 in) in height, and weigh 70 kg (154 lb.) or more.
The spotted hyena’s fur is yellow-gray or gray-brown. It has black spots which are intense in young individuals and fade with age.
The spotted hyena has a blunt snout and rounded ears. It has a large, wide skull with strong jaws. The spotted hyena’s teeth, jaws and skull are specially adapted for strength, allowing the hyena to crush the bones of its prey.
The species is known for its exceptionally powerful bite force, which exceeds even that of a brown bear!
Hyena are cannibals and will attack and eat other hyena, including their young.
The female hyena is actually dominant, larger in size and more aggressive than the male. Females have a ‘penis’, which is an elongated clitoris, though they are not hermaphrodite.
The ‘penis’ of the female hyena is used for copulation, urination and birth. Many cubs die of suffocation during birth. The mother giving birth may also die as the ‘penis’ is ruptured.
Hyena are creatures of the night. They can live in a wide range of habitats, including savannah, forest, riverine bush, desert and mountain terrain.
Hyena are believed to be even more intelligent than chimpanzees, and studies by Duke University show a large frontal cortex of the brain, with a wily problem-solving ability. The study found that hyena achieved uncanny cooperation, all in eerie silence, without any apparent outward communication.
One of the most dangerous sounds you might hear in the bush is laughter – the hyena laughs to signal excitement that it has found food. The pitch of their laugh can indicate their status in the pack.
Males have the lowest status in the pack and are forced to leave their family when they reach sexual maturity. Their fight to enter a new pack is often deadly and the dominant female will determine their fate.
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