The spotted hyena is the most social of the Carnivora in that it has the largest group sizes and most complex social behaviours. Its social organisation is unlike that of any other carnivore, bearing closer resemblance to that of cercopithecine primates (baboons and macaques) with respect to group-size, hierarchical structure, and frequency of social interaction among both kin and unrelated group-mates. However, the social system of the spotted hyena is openly competitive rather than cooperative, with access to kills, mating opportunities and the time of dispersal for males depending on the ability to dominate other clan-members. Females provide only for their own cubs rather than assist each other, and males display no paternal care. Spotted hyena society is matriarchal; females are larger than males, and dominate them.
The spotted hyena is a highly successful animal, being the most common large carnivore in Africa. Its success is due in part to its adaptability and opportunism; it is primarily a hunter but may also scavenge, with the capacity to eat and digest skin, bone and other animal waste. In functional terms, the spotted hyena makes the most efficient use of animal matter of all African carnivores. The spotted hyena displays greater plasticity in its hunting and foraging behaviour than other African carnivores; it hunts alone, in small parties of 2–5 individuals or in large groups. During a hunt, spotted hyenas often run through ungulate herds in order to select an individual to attack. Once selected, their prey is chased over a long distance, often several kilometres, at speeds of up to 60 km/h.
5 Fascinating Facts About the Spotted Hyena :
- A female spotted hyena’s external genitalia resemble a male’s and includes a ‘pseudopenis’, through which she urinates, copulates and gives birth. This explains why ancient civilizations believed hyenas to be hermaphrodites.
- Spotted hyenas suckle their young for up to 18 months – much longer than most carnivores.
- A spotted hyena’s heart is twice the weight of a lion’s, in proportion to its body &mass. This gives it enough stamina to pursue its prey for up to 5 km.
- A spotted hyena’s jaws are the strongest of any mammal. They can exert 40% more bite force than a leopard and are able to crack open the femur of a giraffe.
- The Maasai people of East Africa traditionally left out their dead to be consumed by spotted hyenas.