Amazing Animals: Hyenas


Here is a Spotted Hyena clamped onto a decapitated Zebra head. Source:African Wildlife Detective

Cadence Butler, Senior Reporter

You might know a couple of facts about hyenas, maybe just their name or that they’re from the Lion King. What you might not know is that hyenas are amazingly smart animals. According to Mental Floss, “A study done by Duke University showed that a captive pair of hyenas performed better at problem-solving and social cooperation than chimpanzees. Even more amazing is that during the study, the hyenas solved all the problems in silence, using only non-verbal signals for communication” (Lenz). Chimpanzees are known for their smarts and how similar looking they are to humans. But to be smarter than Chimps?

Hyenas are most commonly found in the African Savanna. Spotted hyenas have large heads, rounded ears, bushy tails, longer front legs than their back legs, and the females are always larger. All hyenas have a different color and coat pattern than any other hyena. In the Lion King, the hyenas are portrayed as scavengers and villains. Scavengers are animals that follow around predators and eat their leftovers. Surprisingly, hyenas kill most of their food, around 95% of it actually. They will eat zebras, antelope, wildebeest, birds, lizards, snakes, and even insects. You already know that hyenas are scavengers. If they stumble upon a rotted carcass they won’t turn up their snouts and trot away, they’ll rip and tear and shred and destroy everything until there’s only a bloody splotch on the ground and a gut-wrenching smell. I know what you’re thinking, rotted flesh? No way! But really, they will and they do. They will even eat the bones of their prey. To break the bones of an animal is an amazing feat. Hyenas can generate around 1,000 bite pressure. They don’t eat the bones whole but will crush the bones into smaller fragments and gulp them down, but in a specific feeding order, based on social structure.

The hyena social structure is very unique. Spotted hyenas have a matriarchy, which means each spotted hyena clan is ruled by an alpha female. Some reasons the females are more dominant than the males is the females in each clan can be up to 10% larger than the males because the “Female hyenas have three times more testosterone in their bodies than their male counterparts” according to Africa Geographic. Which makes them larger and more aggressive. Females are born a step ahead of males, just because of their gender. In the matriarchy, the hyena males are ranked below every single female. In their clan or outside their clan, it doesn’t matter. The males are always ranked lower. Which means they always eat dead last. Males have to suffer through all the taunts, and can’t do anything about it in fear of being ganged up on by higher ranked females.

Hyena cubs are born with their eyes open and a full set of teeth which is amazing. Their baby coats are a blackish-brownish color that will change to a lighter color specific only to them, with dark brown spots. Soon after they’re born hyena cubs will fight to establish their rank amongst their siblings. Usually fighting to the death, the weaker sibling or siblings will perish. The lesser ranked sibling under the dominant sibling will soon be scarred from fights to make sure they don’t forget “who’s the boss”. When they’re older, the females will settle into their ranks into the hyena matriarchy with help from their mom’s status and their own ambition. The male cubs will leave when they’re older to try to assimilate into another clan, but not without a struggle. The males will have to fight to show that they are strong enough to join their clan. But the downside is that they are now the last ranked hyena in their clan. They will wait, until all the males ahead of them die do gain a higher rank in the clan.

I like hyenas because they are some of the strangest, amazingly weird animals, ever. Hyenas are one of the most looked down upon animals, but are some of the most amazing animals I have every researched. You might not believe me but, hey, give them a chance. You might even like them.