La hyena belongs to the family Hyena which is similar to a dog. It is called a hyena to any of the three species of carnivores with thick hair, similar to that of dogs.

Close-up of a hyena
Close-up of a hyena


There are three species:

  • Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
  • Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena)
  • Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea)

Inside to the family Hyena there is a species similar to hyenas; known as Land wolf (Proteles cristata) that can be confused as one more species, but belongs to a different genus and subfamily. Unlike hyenas it is a shy solitary insectivore.


The hyena can weigh up to 82 kg, measure almost 2 meters in length and a meter in height at the shoulder. The females are much larger than the males, with the exception of the spotted hyena, as it outnumbers and dominates the male.

The skull is similar to that of large canids, but is much larger and heavier, with shorter facial portions. The jaws are really strong for her body size. Its dentition is similar to that of a canid, but it is more specialized in the consumption of thick meats and in the crushing of bones. The jaw force is so great that it can kill a dog with a single bite to the neck without breaking their skin.

The ears are large and have simple basal ridges and no marginal pouch. Unlike canids, they have a couple of extra ribs, and the tongue is rough like that of felines and vivipeds. The spine is of limited mobility.

The torso is short and quite solid and has a structure similar to that of wolves, but the hindquarters are lower, the withers are higher, and their backs slope noticeably down towards their rumps. The front legs are tall and elongated, while the hind legs are very short and the neck is thick and short. They have powerful shoulders to dismember and carry weights.

It has digitized legs with both legs with four digits each and with bulging pads. Like canids they have short, broken and non-retractable claws.

They lack a staff, a bone found in the penis of most mammals. In the spotted hyena the genitalia of both sexes are similar in appearance.

The coat is sparse and thick, with a poorly developed undercoat. It is ginger in color with dark spot patterns unique to each individual. All species have a rich mane of long hair that runs down the spine, with the exception of the spotted hyena.

striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), The brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) And the land wolf (Proteles cristata) have a striped mane on the upper part of the neck that rises when scared. The spotted hyena appears to be standing all the time, due to the fact that the main part is considerably shorter.

They grow from pyrional scent glands but have a bare skin pouch at the anal opening. These produce a creamy white discharge that sticks to the stems of the grass. The smell is very strong, similar to something burned, and if the wind is in favor it can be detected by humans from several meters away. The secretions are u


The hyena forms herds and establishes a den in the center of its territory. The pack tends to hunt together. The territory is marked by anal glands, a trait that is found between the viveridae and mustelidae, but it is not dogs or cats.

They are tireless globetrotters with excellent eyesight, hearing and smell that allow them to locate carrion. They are also competent hunters, although you prefer not to have to. Almost all species are more or less nocturnal.

They communicate through moans, screams, laughter, and shrieks, which can be heard for miles. It is also used to alter other hyenas for various tasks such as warning of a predator or when they find food. In certain areas, these screams are known as the "cry of laughter." Although not all hyenas are as vocal, the striped hyena is quieter and limited to laughter and howls.

They often groom themselves like felines and viverids, licking their genitals while sitting low on their backs, their legs spread apart with one leg pointing vertically upward, as felines do. However, they do not "wash" their faces. They defecate in the same way that other carnivores do. Although they are similar to dogs, they do not lift their leg when urinating, as they do not need to mark their territory that way.

When attacked, brown and striped hyenas feign death. However, the stained ones fight back fiercely.

Hyena couple
Hyena couple


The hyena lives in a different environment depending on the species. The spotted hyena is found in mountainous areas, forests, savannas, and even semi-deserts. The browns inhabit deserts, semi-deserts, savannas and scavenge in urban areas. Striped hyenas inhabit mountainous regions and scrublands.

The terrestrial wolf inhabits thickets and dry, open plains; Due to their condition as insectivores, they are restricted in those areas where termites inhabit.


The hyena is distributed throughout Africa, parts of Asia, and Europe. Although currently they are only found in the African savanna. With the exception of the striped hyena that can be found in the jungles of India and western Asia.


The hyena is a carnivorous scavenger, that is, instead of hunting its own food, it takes advantage of the prey hunted by another animal.

Although he can attack and kill any animal if he thinks he can defeat it. Some hyenas supplement their diet with fruits. The exception is the spotted hyena which is an active predator, hunting in long chases and dismembering them in the form of canids.

land wolf (Proteles cristata) is insectivorous and is specialized in feeding on termites of the genus Trinervitermes and Hodotermes, which are trapped with their long and broad tongue. It can feed on 300.000 termites in a single hunting day.

Hiena carrying carroña
Hiena carrying carroña


Hyena predators vary by species. Among the predators we can find: lions, leopards and crocodiles.


The hyena reproduces in short copulas of short intervals, unlike canids that are of a single elongated copula.

Gestation is about 110 days, and the annual litter is two young that can be born in any month.

The spotted hyena is born almost fully developed, with eyes open, incisors and canids erupting, and lacking the typical markings in adults. Striped hyena hatchlings are born with adult markings, closed eyes, and small ears.

They do not regurgitate the food for the young, since they offer them solid food chopped up. In general, the males do not play any role in the rearing of the young, with the exception of the males belonging to the striped hyena.

State of conservation

All three species of hyenas are in decline outside of protected areas. They are hunted by humans due to associations of certain problems, such as cattle theft, religious beliefs etc.

Relationship with humans

The hyena is very dangerous for a human. The human is part of the only animal that will kill a hyena on purpose. By their nature they usually enter into conflict with humans.

The spotted hyenaCrocuta crocuta) is the largest species and it is easy to see it enter food stores, livestock farms, and occasionally it is possible that it will kill people and consume waste.

Brown hyenas are often blamed for many livestock-related deaths, of which probably most are not. The same is true from North Africa to eastern India, where striped hyenas are blamed for missing children, missing cattle and digging up graves. The consequence of these beliefs has been the persecution of the species to the point of extinguishing entire populations.

Popular culture

In some African tribes there is a belief that hyenas were related to witchcraft and supernatural activities. Which makes humans very cautious around hyenas. Still, hyena parts are sought after to create symbolic pieces and traditional potions created to cure sterility, give wisdom, and allow the blind to find their way.

In ancient Greece and Rome, different parts of the body were believed to be effective means of protecting themselves from the sea and ensuring love and fertility.

It also appears in literature, video games, and audiovisual works. They generally "play" the role of evil and clumsy animals, such as the Lion King's hyenas, who worshiped Scar.

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