Spotted Hyena

ORDER: Carnivora

FAMILY: Hyaenidae

GENUS: Crocuta

SPECIES: crocuta

This is the largest of the three hyena species. Male weight is 123-138 pounds, height 32-34 inches; female weight is 147-165 pounds, height 34-35 inches. They have a sturdy build, long neck, high shoulders, and long muscular legs, with the forelegs longer than hind legs and four toes on each foot with non-retractile claws. The head is massive with rounded ears and robust teeth adapted for chewing bones- they have a bite strength around 1,000 psi. The coat is rough, comparatively short, and ranges color from reddish-brown to tan, growing lighter and less spotted with age. Spots are black and rounded. Tail tip, muzzle and lower parts of limbs are dark brown. A slight mane may be present on neck and shoulder. Uses an ambling walk or a tireless lope, and can gallop up to 31 miles an hour for a couple of miles (top speed 37 mph). Has at least 11 different, intergrading calls, ranging from groans, grunts, growls and squeals to lowing and whooping.

Africa south of the Sahara except rain forests and true desert, up to 13,000 feet.

Carnivorous. Eats vertebrates of all kinds, especially hoofed mammals; seldom eats invertebrates. Most hunting and foraging is done at night and alone, but clan members sometimes set off in packs to hunt specific quarry, such as zebra.

Lives in large clans and defends territory if high density. Territory is marked with scent from anal glands and dung. A hyena clan is a stable community of related females, among which unrelated males reside for varying periods. Within the clan there is a separate dominance hierarchy for each sex. The highest-ranking females and her descendants are dominant over all other animals. Although all resident males have been observed to court females, only the highest ranking male usually mates. Spotted hyenas differ from other social carnivores in that: clan members compete more and cooperate less; females are bigger than males and dominate them; females compete for rank and food and even close relatives do not cross-suckle offspring; cubs are raised in communal dens, but seldom are provisioned or guarded by clan members; and males play no parental role, with only a privileged few permitted anywhere near dens. After a gestation of 4 months, two young are born in a burrow (usually an abandoned aardvark den). The long gestation results in incisors and canines present, eyes open (but unseeing), and forelegs capable of strong, directed movement. Beginning only hours after birth, siblings of like sex battle for dominance, using the neckbite/shake technique of fighting adults. The one that wins keeps the other from nursing until it weakens and dies. The surviving male grows faster and is likelier to achieve reproductive dominance; the surviving female eliminates a rival for dominance in her natal clan. Two to six weeks after whelping, young are transported to the communal den. Young depend entirely on milk for about 8 months and are not weaned until 12 to 16 months old. Maturation is at three years, females later than males. Female offspring remain in their natal clan; males leave at around two years. Life span in captivity as long as 35 years.

Large amounts of androgens during fetal development cause a hypertrophied clitoris capable of elongation and erection and a fused labia forming a false scrotum. The vagina has merged with the urethra to form a common urogenital tract that makes a sharp bend and exits through the peniform clitoris. At puberty, the urethral opening splits. Copulation and birth are complicated because of this anatomy. With its powerful teeth and jaws and its efficient digestion, the spotted hyena can utilize virtually everything on a carcass except the rumen contents and horn bosses. Even desiccated carcasses yield protein and minerals during lean times.

The high, cackling giggle typically given by a hyena being chased expresses intense fear or excitement, and gives the name "laughing hyena". Hyenas go through elaborate greeting ceremonies involving a lengthy genital inspection. This probably is an appeasement gesture to restrict aggression since the subordinate usually lifts a leg and offers itself for inspection first. The hyena's reputation as a skulking, craven coward is not justified. Perfect opportunists, hyenas will take whatever entails the least effort and risk, but hunger will also drive a hyena to run down and kill unaided a large healthy bull wildebeest. When hunting in packs their success rate increases dramatically, and they can work together to effectively isolate a single herd animal and pursue it to death. Hyenas often lose their kills to lions, but sometimes several hyenas can bluff female or immature lions out of their kills. They also take kills from other predators. Most numerous of the large African predators since its behavior allows it to function as a solitary scavenger and predator of small animals or as a group-living hunter of ungulates.

The spotted hyenas can be found in the African Savanna.

In the twentieth century, Crocuta has been considered a predator of livestock and game and has been hunted, trapped, and poisoned over much of its range and has been eliminated in parts of East and South Africa. The population of the spotted hyena has decreased, but it is not considered endangered as the other two species are. Listed as a species of Least Concern by IUCN.


  1. Estes, Richard. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. 1991. University of California Press, pp. 336-344.
  2. Grzimek, Bernhard, 1972. Grzimek
  3. Kingdon, Jonathan. 1982. East African Mammals. University of Chicago Press, pp. 261-279.
  4. Nowak, Ronald. 1991. Walker
  5. Stevens, Jane. Secrets of the Spotted Hyena, San Francisco Chronicle, Image, August 8, 1993, pp.113-171.