180px-Spotted Hyena and young in Ngorogoro crater

a spotted hyena


a spotted hyena fighting for a carcass

180px-Spotted hyena

a spotted hyena lurking in the dark

The Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) also known as Laughing Hyena, is a carnivorous mammal of the family hyaenidae, of which it is the largest extant member. Though the species' prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it now only occurs in all of Africa south of the Sahara save for the Congo Basin.Spotted hyenas live in large matriarchal communities called clans, which can consist of up to 80 individuals. Though often mislabeled as cowardly scavengers, spotted hyenas derive the majority of their nourishment by hunting medium sized ungulates,and frequently clash with lions over food and territory.

The spotted hyena features prominently in African mythology and folklore, where its portrayal varies from being a bringer of light, to a symbol of immorality and depravity.

Evolution Edit

It is thought that the ancestors of the Spotted Hyena branched off from the true hyenas (striped and brown hyenas) during the Pliocene era, 5.332 million to 1.806 million years ago. Ancestral Spotted Hyenas probably developed social behaviours in response to increased pressure from rivals on carcasses, thus forcing them to operate in teams. Spotted Hyenas evolved sharp carnassials behind their crushing premolars, therefore they did not need to wait for their prey to die, as is the case for brown and striped hyenas, and thus became pack hunters as well as scavengers. They began forming increasingly larger territories, necessitated by the fact that their prey was often migratory, and long chases in a small territory would have caused them to encroach into another clan's turf. The evolution of pack behaviour in hyenas likely influenced the ancestors of lions into first forming prides, in order to better defend their kills. According to the fossil record, the species first evolved in the Indian Subcontinent. Spotted hyenas colonized the Middle East, Africa and the Ice Age plains of Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China where a large subspecies known as C. c. spelaea or "cave hyena" developed as a response to the cold climate. Naturalists and paleontologists originally assumed that the cave hyena was a separate species from the spotted hyena, due to large differences in fore and hind extremities. This was first put into question by Björn Kurtén, who stated “[...] there is evidence that this European population was continuous with southern, typical representatives of the nominate subspecies”. This was corroborated by genetic analysis' in 2004, showing no differences in DNA between the two populations. With the decline of grasslands 12,500 years ago, Europe experienced a massive loss of lowland habitats favoured by cave hyenas, and a corresponding increase in mixed woodlands. Cave hyenas, under these circumstances, would have been outcompeted by wolves and humans which were as much at home in forests as in open lands, and in highlands as in lowlands. Cave hyena populations began to shrink after roughly 20,000 years ago, completely disappearing from Western Europe between 14-11,000 years ago, and earlier in some areas. The spotted hyena only vanished from the Middle East in the early Holocene around 8000 years ago, and was replaced in this region by the striped hyena. Since then, it has been confined to Sub-Saharian Africa.


It is thought that the spotted hyena conforms to the chaus described by Pliny the Elder, which was latter described by Linnaeus as being part of the cat tribe. It is also thought to be the Crocotta of Strabo, which he thought to be a wolf-dog hybrid. Sculptured representations indicate that the species was rarely encountered by the Ancient Egyptians, who considered them exotic enough to include them in their menageries of foreign animals and to exclude them from their sacred animals. Certain scholars interpret Aristotle's innaccurate description of striped hyenas as being hermaphroditic animals as being a confusion between the striped and spotted species.


In his 12th-edition of Systema Naturæ, Linnaeus placed hyenas into the genus Canis, between wolves and foxes. Brisson had already given the form a generic distinction under the name Hyæna. In his own edition of Linnaeus' Systema Naturæ, Johann Friedrich Gmelin gave the spotted species the binomial name Canis crocuta, though Thomas Pennant had previously described it under the title of Hyæna, and placed it under the category of "Spotted Hyænas". Georges Cuvier made Hyænas into the last subdivision of digitigrades, following viverrids and preceding felids. Cuvier was convinced that there were at least two different species of spotted hyena, based on regional differences in coat colours. However, subsequent naturalists did not accept this, for although they noted coat variations, there were no other differences to fully warrant classing them as different species. John Edward Gray later brought the spotted hyena under the Felidae, placing it within a category including other hyenas and the aardwolf. M. Lesson arranged the hyænids under his third section of digitigrades, a section consisting of animals lacking a small tooth behind the lower molar. The spotted hyena was placed between aardwolves and cats, and was termed Hyæna capensis.


Afrendille: Walaba Afrikaans: Gevlekte hiëna Ateso: Ibuin Elkoni: Makatiet nyenegea English: Tiger wolf, Wolf of the Cape colonists Kalenjin: Kimatet Karamojong: Ebu, Etutui Kigogo: Misi Kiliangulu: Warabes Jita: Imembe Kikuyu: Hiti Kimeru: Mbitingaau Kichagga: Ingurunju, Ifulu Kinyaturo: Mpiti Kinyiha: Impatama Kipare:, Kizigua: Ibau Kirangi: Mbichi Kisukuma, Kikamba and Kimaragoli: Mbiti Kisungwa: Fifi Kiswahili: Fisi, Nyangao Kitaita: Mbisi Luganda Runyoro: Empisi Lugbara: Rara Luhya: Namunyu Luo: Otoyo Lwo: Lagwara Madi: Ebowu Masai: Ondilili, Oln'gojine Sebei: Mangatiet


Spotted hyenas are the largest of extant hyenas. Their fur is shorter than those of striped hyenas, and their manes less full. Compared to other hyenas, spotted hyenas show a greater relative amount of frontal cortex exclusive to motor control functions. Spotted hyenas have powerful necks and forequarters, though comparatively small hindquarters. Theis rounded rather than angular, which prevents attackers chasing from behind getting a firm grip on it. Female spotted hyenas are considerably larger than males, weighing 12% more. Adults measure 95.0--165.8 cm in body length, and have a shoulder height of 70.0-91.5 cm. Adut male spotted hyenas in the Serengeti weigh 40.5--55.0 kg (89--121 lb), while females weigh 44.5--63.9 kg (98--141 lb). Spotted hyenas in Zambia tend to be heavier, with males weighing on average 67.6 kg (149 lb), and females 69.2 kg (153 lb). Macdonald (1992) gives a maximum weight of 81.7 kg (180 lb), while Kingdon (1977) gives one of 86 kg (190 lb).The skulls of Zambian hyenas are also 7% longer and wider than those of Serengeti populations.

Their dentition is more dual purposed than that of other modern hyena species, which are mostly scavengers: the upper and lower third premolars are conical bone-crushers, with a third bone-holding cone jutting from the lower fourth premolar. Spotted hyenas also have carnassials behind their bone-crushing premolars, the position of which allowing hyenas to crush bone with their premolars without blunting their carnassials. The carnassials themselves are proportionately larger than those of other carnivorous mammals. Combined with large jaw muscles and a special vaulting to protect the skull against large forces, these characteristics give spotted hyenas a powerful bite which can exert a pressure of 800 kg per square cm (4,400 lb per square inch), which is 40% more force than a leopard can generate. Although they possess disproportionately large teeth to counteract wear, three year old spotted hyenas have teeth as worn as those of six year old lions. An experiment conducted by Savage (1955) demonstrated how the jaws of spotted hyenas outmatch those of brown bears in bonecrushing ability.

With the exception of size, there is little sexual dimorphism in spotted hyenas. The external genitalia of females closely resemble those of males: the 1.5 cm (0.6 inch) clitoris is similar in shape and position as a penis, and is capable of erection.The only visible difference between the penis of male spotted hyenas and the clitoris of females is that the latter's organ has a blunter tip. The labia are fused together into a pair of fibrous sacs resembling a scrotum. Typically, when observing sexually mature animals, naturalists use the presence of nipples as an indicator of gender when observing spotted hyenas at a distance. Females have two nipples and rarely four. The colour and spotting of the coat varies with age and individual. The number of spots tends to decrease with age.

Although there are no different extant subspecies, spotted hyenas do display a degree of regional variation, particularly in their southern range, where they tend to be darker and browner in colour, particularly on the back and legs. Due to this darker hue, the spots of southern spotted hyenas are less defined and angular than their cousins on the West Coast. Also, the fur is longer in the South African form, particularly around the ears.

Spotted hyenas have a powerful night vision, which allows them to recognise each other in complete darkness, even if they are downwind/


Spotted hyenas will rest and give birth in dens, which they rarely dig themselves: they will often use the abandoned lairs of warthogs, springhares and jackals. A single den can house several females and dozens of cubs at once. Unlike grey wolves, it is not uncommon for spotted hyenas to accommodate cubs of different litters in one den. Spotted hyenas will sometimes live in close proximity to warthogs, sharing mudholes and sleeping within a few metres of each other.Spotted hyenas may sleep in the open if the weather is not too hot, but otherwise they will rest near lakes, streams or in mud or dense shrubs. Unlike most social carnivores, spotted hyenas still display some atavistic behaviours of their solitary ancestors: spotted hyenas still head out for food alone, but later return to their community.Like other hyenas, spotted hyenas have two anal scent glands, which open into the rectum just inside the anal opening, though these glands are less elaborate than those of other hyena species. The white paste produced by these glands is deposited on grass stalks, and produce a powerful soapy odour which even humans can detect. Pasting is performed on a number of different occasions, such as when walking alone, when around a kill, when lions are present, by males and cubs near dens, and most frequently by parties of hyenas at territorial boundraries. Pasting is often followed by scratching the ground with their forepaws, which adds further scents from their interdigital glands.