Hyena Facts - Animals of the World

The Spotted hyena is the largest and only spotted species of hyena.
The Spotted hyena is the largest and only spotted species of hyena.

The hyena is a carnivorous animal that looks like a dog and is native to Africa and Asia. Four species of the hyenas are currently alive; the brown hyena, the spotted hyena, the striped hyena, and the aardwolf hyena. Of these species, the spotted hyena is the largest while the aardwolf is the smallest.

Physical Appearance

Physically, they have relatively short torsos with huge heads, large ears, and thick necks. The front legs are higher than the hind legs. All species of the hyena have stripes on their coats except for the spotted hyena which as spots. Males are larger than females except for spotted hyenas.


Hyenas are carnivorous. The four species have different eating habits. The aardwolf mainly feeds on insects, particularly termites. On a single hunt, the aardwolf can down 300,000 termites. The striped hyena mostly scavenges for food, but it will kill defenceless and weak prey. Sometimes, it eats fruits. The spotted hyena is also a scavenger but hunts in a pack. The striped hyena hunts by wearing the prey before going for the kill.

Large carnivores find hyenas to be irritating. Hyenas have a nasty habit of swarming an animal that has just killed prey and stealing the food. Animals that hunt alone are easily robbed of their meals by a pack of hyenas although predators that hunt and kill as a group usually give the packs pause. An example of an animal that hunts alone is a leopard or a cheetah while lions are harder to rob because of their social nature. On occasion, hyenas will kill their young ones and those of other animals if the babies are not protected.


Hyenas are similar to canines in appearance and in some behaviors. Behavioral similarities to canines include hunting with teeth rather than claws as is the case with cats, blunt claws that cannot be retracted, and they are fast feeders. In other traits, their behaviors are consistent with felines. Much like other felines, hyenas groom themselves by licking their paw, genitalia, and other parts. Hyenas do not urinate as canines do by lifting their leg since that is not how they mark territories. Territories are marked using anal glands. The spotted hyena is aggressive when attacked, but the brown and striped ones will feign death. In addition, the spotted hyena is vociferous while the striped one is relatively silent. Socially, they hyenas are social animals that prefer to live, hunt, and scavenge in groups, much like the wolf. Their strength comes from their numbers and other evolutional advantages such as intelligence.


The mating season is characterized by short sessions, unlike canines. The spotted hyena’s cubs are born almost fully developed save for the markings of an adult. The cubs of the striped hyena are born with the markings but have closed eyes. Out of the four species, the female is the only one who takes care of the young except for the males of the striped hyenas. Depending on their habitat, the cubs may live for 10-12 years while in the wild or even twice as long while living in captivity.


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