I am assuming that most people know a lot about the African elephant or lions, but somehow we don’t want to learn the facts on hyenas.
Although true that these intriguing animals look and sound weird (the laughter!), I personally find hyenas fascinating.
Did you know that in a former life, I would have liked to be a biologist?
Well, that, unfortunately, didn’t happen, but the interest in this African creature still remained, and I wished that I could go study them!
Anyway, long story short, today I will be diving into the topic of 15 fun facts on hyenas, that you might not have heard of!
So, What Are Hyenas Exactly?
Hyenas ( Latin name: Hyaenidae) are predators found in Africa, but also in Asia and South America.
They are medium-sized predators, and although they look like large dogs, biologically they are a separate family, closely related to the other families of the suborder Feliformia.
So basically, they are more related to the mongoose and a cat than a dog!
While in ancient times, hyenas were found over large parts of Asia and Europe, they now have declined in numbers and habitat.
4 species remain:
1. The Spotted Hyena
The spotted hyena makes the most noise and is the largest, and the most aggressive hyena for sure.
This animal is the most common in large parts south of the African Sahara.
Its tail is bushy and its length is average. This type of hyena is strongly built and has a broad head and little ears.
The tail has a black tip and the muzzle is dark brown, while they can reach a speed of up to 60km/h.
2. The Brown Hyena
The brown hyena has a dark brown to black coat with a light yellow collar around its neck. It has white horizontal stripes on its legs and its tail is dark.
They weigh between 34 and 70 kgs.
3. The Striped Hyena
The striped hyena has vertical black stripes all over its yellow-gray coat body. They can pull up their fur when they feel threatened, making them look 38% taller and wider!
Their throat, tail tip, and muzzle are black
This type of hyena is mainly found in North Africa but also found in the Northeast of Africa, in the Middle East, and even in India. They usually live alone.
4. The Aardwolf.
The Aardwolf is quite different than the other hyena species in many ways.
For example, it is a lot smaller than other hyenas and weighs only between 8 and 14 pounds!
They do not eat meat, but only termites and they can eat up to 300.000 of them in one night!
The Aardwolf is found in the south and northeast of Africa.
In the video below, you can perfectly see the difference between all 4:
Physically, the hyenas are something really special, because a distinction can’t be made between a female and a male, based on their genitals.
This is because female hyenas have a large clitoris that resembles a penis.
Also, female hyenas have a larger physique than male hyenas.
The weight of hyenas:
- Male: 45 to 62 kg
- Female: 55 to 82 kg
In Africa today, hyenas are associated with sorcery, the Zulus feared the alleged power of the hyenas.
Are hyenas scavengers or hunters?
They are actually both hunters and scavengers, as they often eat the leftovers of prey left behind by other predators.
Hunting is done in groups and sometimes they go for large animals, but smaller animals are also on the menu. In a group, there is a bigger chance that they catch large prey.
Hyenas mainly hunt at night and early morning, while mostly preying on slow animals and not agile animals, such as zebras.
About one in three times, a hyena manages to overpower a prey, and they bite it until it bleeds to death or dies from the shock. They are hesitant to take prey away from another predator.
They typically hunt far from their territories.
Who Are The Natural Enemies Of Hyenas?
The biggest enemy of the hyena for sure is the lion. The lion is a lot stronger and heavier than the hyena, so it can easily grab prey and even kill a hyena quite easily.
Yet, the hyenas can challenge the lions. When a lion is quietly eating its prey, hyenas are not afraid to surround him and constantly bully him with their howling.
What Do Hyenas eat?
As said before, hyenas are scavengers, but also hunters, and they usually hunt large mammals with hooves.
All that remains from their pray are hooves and horns, everything else is eaten, even the bones!
Hyenas have very strong jaws and teeth and can easily bite the bones into pieces and their stomachs are also specially adapted to digest the bones.
In the droppings of a spotted hyena, for example, you can see that they eat bones because they are colored white.
There is not always an animal like the zebra around to hunt, so sometimes they move to another area, while migrating.
These trips can be quite long and take up to 80 km long!
How Strong Is The Bite Force Of A Hyena?
It is actually impressively powerful because they have large and muscular jaws.
The bite of the spotted hyena has a pressure of up to 1140 pound-force per square inch (80kgf/cm2).
This makes it a fact that their bite force is 40% greater than the bite of leopards, and is even stronger than the bites of brown bears.
Experiments even showed a particular hyena that had a bit of an astonishing 4,500 newtons of force. How about that?!
Have another look at this video below, where an experiment is shown on the bite force of the hyena:
What Kind Of Noise Does A Hyena Make?
Hyenas sound like they are laughing, hence the reason why they are also known as the laughing hunter. So it is rather a “laugh” than a “cry”.
Unfortunately, this and other things have given this animal a bad reputation. Because people used to think that these animals kill their prey for fun, which of course is not the case at all.
The hyena has this “smile” only when it is anxious or excited, like when it is being chased.
To be fair, when I was in Africa, I as well found his laugh kind of “creepy”, but at the same time that was the reason that I was fascinated from the start by the hyena!
Reproduction and Hyenapups.
After a pregnancy of 4 months, on average 2 young hyena pups are born, and they can have them all year long.
Little hyena pups have their eyes open as soon as they’re born and they are completely black. Only when getting a bit older, do they get the brown fur with the spots.
Young hyenas are usually born in an abandoned burrow of an aardvark or warthog.
After about 2 to 6 weeks, their mother moves the young back to the clan’s den. Sometimes the young do fight each other to the death.
This way, there is more milk for the remaining young and the strongest ones will survive.
Are hyenas intelligent?
Sometimes hyenas are labeled as stupid or crazy in cartoons, or in a movie like “The Lion King”, where three hyenas play the sidekick of the evil lion “Scar”.
But actually, they are very intelligent animals, the development of their intelligence even resembles the development of our own intelligence.
In experiments, hyenas even showed more intelligence than great apes such as chimpanzees.
Especially solving problems within a group is easy for these animals and they are also extremely curious and are able to break into cars or houses if there is something that grasps their interest.
How Long Can Hyenas Live?
While most large wild dogs live an average of 10 years old and wild predators reach an average age of 10 to 15 years, hyenas can get a lot older.
They can easily reach an age above 20 years, even in the wild.
This makes the hyenas one of the longest-living land predators, although they do take a little longer to grow up.
In captivity they can even grow older, the longest-lived hyena has even reached the age of 41.
Some More Information About The Mothers’ Milk Of The Spotted Hyena.
The milk of spotted hyenas is impressively nutritious and contains a great amount of protein and fat.
It consists of about 14,9% of protein and about 14,1% of fat, this makes it very energy-rich and nutritious for the hyena pups.
Human infant milk contains about 0,8 protein and 5% fat, just to compare.
But don’t even think about giving hyenas milk to humans, please!
Are hyenas sociable?
Hyenas have a very complex social structure and it can easily consist of 130 members.
Often though, they split off into small groups or go out on their own, and they occasionally get together with their entire group.
The adult females have the top dominant spot in the group, their young have a rank below and the males have the lowest rank.
This dominance in the females is quite unique among predators.
In a group of hyenas, there is always one dominant female and there are also complex social networks that can arise, and living in a group of hyenas isn’t always easy.
In the next video, I do feel sorry for the lion, but that’s nature!
Hyenas have a very strong immune system.
Scientists know very little about the immune systems of hyenas, but something very interesting is going on.
What’s interesting to know is that they rarely die from infectious diseases, on the contrary to populations of wolves, wild dogs, lions, and other carnivores, who have a lot of these viral diseases like rabies, for example.
When there are outbreaks in a population of nearby carnivores, they show little to no deaths.
Humans Versus The Hyenas
Is the hyena a threat to humans?
That answer is complicated because usually, humans shouldn’t be afraid of hyenas, but there hàve been people attacked by these intriguing animals.
During the day, hyenas generally would never attack humans. At night, the hyena would only attack humans that are asleep.
So if you are sleeping in the wild, in a tent, it would be wise to always have someone on watch and to not keep food or leftovers near the sleeping area whatsoever.
Hyenas are not as tough as they look though, if you make a lot of noise and get yourself a more aggressive attitude, they will run away!
Did You Know That President Roosevelt had a pet hyena?
It sounds a little bit crazy to me that a president like Theodore Roosevelt and his family had a large gathering of exotic animals like a zebra, bears, a lion, a coyote, but also a hyena.
He did not even like hyenas, because he thought that these creatures are cowards!
The pet hyena called Bill was later placed in the National Zoo where he lived for the rest of his life.
Are Hyenas An Endangered Species?
Although the Aardwolf and Spotted Hyena are not on the list of threatened species, there are concerns.
The truth is that hyenas are a vulnerable species because their habitat is shrinking and they are heavily hunted and brown hyenas are listed as sensitive species on the Red List of the IUCN.
Spotted hyenas are even locally extinct in much of South Africa and in parts of West and Central Africa, partly because of their bad image, which is totally unfair if you ask me 🙁
My Final Conclusion.
I hope that by sharing this information and multiple other pages on facts on hyenas, people will start to realize that these intriguing species deserve a better reputation and start to see their beauty!
If you have any more questions or facts to add, please leave a message below in the comment section or join me on one of my social media channels or Facebook group.
I wish you happy travels!
8 thoughts on “15 Fun Facts On Hyenas – The Most Misunderstood Animals Of The Savanna”
I had seen some videos where Hyenas were shown to devour leftovers from other animals like the lion. However, I knew very little more about these creatures and your post helped me develop a better understanding of Hyenas. The videos were very interesting. I was glad that the lion had its friend come to save it. If the Hyenas got at it the sight would have not been pretty. The lion would have died a slow and painful death.
Compared to other wild animals, the Hyena doesn’t have an attractive fur coat to me. I was amazed to learn that President had one as a pet. I am sure he didn’t venture to pet it.
Thank you for your interest and comment and I hope you will enjoy further news on the wonderful animals from Africa 😉
What an interesting post on hyenas all the fascinating facts about them. I grew up in South Africa where I only really saw the spotted hyena. And although I was aware of the striped and brown hyena, I have never heard of an Aardwolf. Is it the same as an “aardvark”, or a different animal altogether?
You mention that the striped hyena can make themselves look 38% wider and taller when they feel threatened. Is this a trait that is only found in the striped hyena, or can all hyenas do that?
Absolutely fascinating about the genitals of the female hyena and that there is therefore no distinction between male and female hyenas. I love you website. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
How interesting that you actually grew up in South Africa! So you must have seen a lot of hyenas, I’m jalous! haha
About your questions:
An Aardwolf is quite different from an Aardvark.
An Aardwolf is nocturnal, eats insects, is a mammal, and is related to the hyena and resembles it. It is living in southern and eastern Africa. You might have never seen an Aardwolf because they are nocturnal 😉
An Aardvark is also a nocturnal mammal and also eats insects, but is of the order Tubulidentata, and resembles a pig, and occurs in some parts of sub-Sahara..
Your second question is a good question and I had to look that up:
“In an instant, a striped hyena can nearly double in size—or at least appear much larger—by raising the hair along its back”
So the answer to that is yes!
thanks for the questions and compliments:-)
I wish you happy travels!
First, let me start my comment with I love your website as you provide insightful information about wildlife animals that I enjoy learning about. I always go back to the Lion King and how they are in the movie as dirty little tricksters. It is interested that they are more in the cat family, with there little laughs.
Hi again Jannette,
And thank you for the compliments, I do my very best to talk about all the African wildlife, as I’m very interested in this, but also the African culture comes up often on my website 😉
Oh yes, the hyenas are amongst my favorite species, I think they are having a bad reputation that they don’t deserve;-)
I wish you happy travels!
Thank you so much for sharing 15 Fun Facts On Hyenas!
What an excellent post about hyenas, with all the great information you provided.
I know friends who spent their childhood in South Africa, where they primarily encountered spotted hyenas.
I was familiar with the brown and striped hyena, but I had never heard of the Aardwolf.
Is it the same as a “aardvark” or is it a completely different animal?
Thank you for the compliments, how nice!
About your question, thanks for asking by the way: the Aardwolf is not the same animal as the Aardvark, no.
An aardvark is a mammal, that resembles kind of a pig, eats insects, and is burrowing and nocturnal. Quite common in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
An Aardwolf, however, is related to our hyena and resembles it, but is also a nocturnal and insectivorous mammal, mostly appearing in eastern and southern Africa 😉
I hope that answered your question.
I wish you happy travels!