Spotted Hyena

(Crocuta Crocuta)

The spotted hyena has a large head with a long, thick, muscular neck and powerful jaws that give the hyena the strongest bite of any mammal. Its front legs are longer than its back legs, giving the hyena a profile somewhat like that of a wildebeest or bison. The spotted hyena paws have four toes with non-retractable claws. The short, coarse fur has a yellow or gray tint covered in spots, which differ among individuals. Its ears are more rounded than that of the other hyenas. A short mane of hair along its back stands upright. It’s only true predators are lions and humans.

Populations are concentrated in eastern and southern Africa, primarily in protected areas. This species is found in a wide variety of habitats: savanna, open woodland, dense dry woodland, montane and semi-desert. Rather than resting in dens, adult spotted hyenas sleep in holes or shallow pools or under bushes or shrubs—anywhere they can find shade during the heat of the day. Hyenas use watering holes as places to cool off or to hide extra food.

They are able to chase down prey over long distances while running at up to 37 miles per hour. Spotted hyenas often pick out the young or weak from the herd, but they can kill even healthy adult ungulates. What they hunt depends on numbers. The bigger the hyena clan, the larger its prey. This can include young rhinos, adult wildebeest, zebras, and Cape buffalo. The hyenas work in a group when hunting such large prey, and young hyenas take years to become successful. Smaller packs chase down gazelles, impalas, warthogs, and waterbucks. When hunting alone, a spotted hyena may go after smaller prey. Ground birds, rabbits, springhare, bat-eared foxes, porcupines, jackals, and fish can be on the menu. Even ostrich eggs are fair game! Spotted hyenas can digest things that most other animals cannot, like skin and bone. Special acids in their stomach break down these rare delicacies.

Spotted hyenas have distinctive vocalizations. They have a large range of vocalizations with over 11 different sounds including yells, howls, cackles and a “whoop” that sounds like laughing to humans. Some vocalizations are loud enough to be heard several miles away. A complex set of body postures are also used in communication with other hyenas.

Information collected from and