Links to other pages in this site Content Foot of the page

Spotted hyenas: some facts and photos

Note: These photos were taken by Dr. Laurence Frank. He asks that they not be copied, so don't. They have been altered to make copying more difficult, and I have taken other measures as well.

spotted hyena cub

Spotted hyena cubs are born almost black. It's a few months before they take on the adult coloration.

All a clan's females are likely to breed, not just the dominant ones. There's no particular mating or birthing season -- they can be born at any time of year. The mothers use a common area to dig their dens, but each mother has her own den. The den might be an abandoned aardwolf or aardvark tunnel, which she will enlarge, or she might dig it herself from scratch. The litters are small compared to most other carnivores -- usually one or two.

adult hyena with two cubs

While female littermates will sometimes fight to the death, older cubs will also play like other young mammals, even with cubs of other females' litters.

Spotted hyenas run down their prey like wolves. They rarely stalk it or set up ambushes like lions. But, like most carnivores, they're flexible: they can adapt their hunting techniques to the prey and the situation, and can pass on what they've learned to their young.

The immensely strong jaws of hyenas can crush and chew up bone. They also have very acid stomach secretions to digest it. Their droppings are white and crusty because of all the powdered bone in them.

some spotted hyenas in a feeding clinch

Spotted hyenas don't carry food to their pups in their mouths or in their stomachs like wolves do. Neither do they usually cache their meat like wolves (when they do cache it, it's usually in water, and they often forget about it). Most food is eaten right at the kill site or nearby.

spotted hyena and cub greeting each other

This photo shows the very long clitoris or penis of the spotted hyena. The greeting ceremony, in which the animals sniff and lick each others' penis or clitoris, lets clan members identify each other. Cubs participate in these greeting ceremonies from a young age; they even mount each other regardless of sex.

Spotted hyenas live in clans that can number forty or more members. The whole clan does not all stay together at all times. Individuals may gather in groups to hunt or go off on their own for a time. The greeting ceremony helps individual hyenas remember each other, helping to maintain the clan in spite of the frequent separations.

First two photos are from Wikimedia Commons. The second two photos are by Dr. Laurence Frank.