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Spotted Hyena Fact Sheet

  • Latin Name

    Crocuta crocuta
  • Class

  • Order

  • Range

    Spotted hyenas range throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but their population varies widely across this area. The highest densities exist in Tanzania, where the species is the most numerous large predator in the Serengeti.

  • Habitat

    Spotted hyenas resides in savanna, semi-deserts, open woodland and mountainous forests.

  • Niche

    Spotted hyenas are inaccurately characterized as scavengers. In fact, they are one of Africa’s top predators. They prey on a wide variety of animals, from large hoofed animals such as gazelles, zebras and wildebeest to smaller mammals. Their large numbers lead to fierce competition for food. While most of their diet comes from hunting prey, they will also scavenge. Spotted hyenas and lions compete for food and often scavenge each other’s kills. Hyenas typically hunt in small groups of 2 to 5 individuals, using larger groups to hunt zebra. They have tremendous endurance as well as keen senses of sight, hearing and smell for detecting prey and carrion over great distances.

  • Life History

    Spotted hyenas form social groups called clans. Larger clans of up to 80 members generally occur in territory with large prey concentrations. Members forage alone or in small groups, gathering only at kills, when defending territory and at communal dens. Clans have complex matriarchal hierarchies, and females are dominant over males. Spotted hyenas are polygynous (having more than one female as a mate at one time) and mate throughout the year. The gestation period is 4 months. Females usually bear twins and can produce a litter every 11 to 21 months. Mothers care exclusively for young, with no communal or male participation.

    is highly polygynous and mating is aseasonal. Although all females produce litters, alpha females
  • Special Adaptations

    Females’ genitalia bears a highly unusual resemblance to that of males—leading to the myth that they are hermaphrodites. Females have an enlarged, penis-like clitoris through which they urinate, mate and give birth. In place of a vagina, they have a scrotum-like pouch. During birth, the clitoris ruptures to allow young to pass through. The resulting wound takes weeks to heal and is one way to identify a mature female’s gender. This bizarre adaptation may cause females to tolerate the presence of smaller males, who aren’t particularly needed for protection or hunting. Since this social system favors aggression, females produce and pass along high quantities of male hormones and extremely high-energy–content milk to offspring. Cubs are born with their eyes open and well-developed teeth, and begin fighting within minutes after birth. Siblings of the same sex often fight until one is killed—enabling the survivor to receive more food and mature faster.

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