This species is named for the reddish, deep brown or blackish spots that dot their grey brown or yellow-grey coat. The spots cover their legs and belly but are not present on the throat or chest. Above each eye is a faint white line. The flat muzzle is coloured black. On the neck the spots are replaced with 5 faint black lines. The feet vary in colour from light brown to black.
Their rump is rounded making it difficult for predators to grip. On each foot there are four toes tipped with a short, blunt claw. Between the toes is webbing. Females have external genitalia which looks much the same as the males and is known as a pseudo-penis.
From the head to the base of the tail spotted hyenas measure 86-150cm (34-59in). The tail adds 25-36cm (10-14in) to this length. At the shoulder they stand 77-81cm (2.5-2.6ft) tall. They weigh between 40 and 86kg (88-190lb) with females being 10% larger than males on average. Spotted hyenas are the largest hyena species.
Spotted hyenas are carnivores. A large amount of their diet comes from scavenging. They will find the leftovers and will eat these. They are also impressive hunters though able to take down a large range of species. Some of these include young rhinos, adult wildebeest, zebras and cape buffalo. These animals are mostly taken by large packs while smaller packs take gazelles, impalas, warthogs and waterbucks. They will also eat ground birds, pangolin, springhare, bat-eared foxes, porcupines,jackals lizards, snakes, fish and ostrich eggs.
They are able to eat almost the entire animal including skin, hooves, bone, teeth, hair and horns. Their powerful jaw can crush through bones easily.
Once they finish eating they may bury some of their food to come back to later. In one meal the spotted hyena may consume 1/3 of its body weight.
Africa is the native home of the spotted hyena. They can be found in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dijibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Fossils of the hyena have also been found in North America, Europe and Asia.
Spotted hyenas live on savannas, in grasslands, scrubland, swamps, woodlands, forest edges, sub deserts and in the mountains up to 4000m (13,000ft).
Though breeding can take place at any time births are more common during the wet season. Spotted hyenas are promiscuous and will mate with numerous mates over the course of the breeding season. Males are always submissive.
While gestation periods vary an average of two-three cubs is generally born after 110 days. A dominant female provides more androgen to their pups in their final days in the womb than the lower ranked female would. This means that they are more aggressive.
At birth cubs are black in colour. Their eyes are already open and their teeth are developed. Weight ranges from 1-1.6kg (2.2-3.5lbs) at birth.
It is not uncommon for cubs which are the same sex will begin to fight violently after birth. This often leads to death and is responsible for 25% of infant mortality in hyena cubs. Infant mortality is high with only 50% of cubs born surviving to adulthood. From birth higher ranked cubs will assert their dominance over a lower-ranked adult female.
To begin with the cubs live in a private den where mum can ensure they survive. Between two and six weeks old the cubs are moved to a shared den where a number of mothers from the same clan keep their cubs.
By two months old they are beginning to lose their brown coat and begin to look like adults. Solid food is eaten from three months old but they will nurse till one to two years old. At one year old they will begin to participate in their first hunts.
Around three years old they reach maturity. At this time males will leave the clan while females remain with their birth clan.
Clans may consist of up to 80 individuals with a female leading them. All females are more powerful than any male. This clan will hunt together but often they strike out on their own to find food.
They maintain a home territory of between 40km2 (15.4miles2) and 1,000km2 (386miles2). This is marked using scent, patrols of the boundary and vocal displays. Hyenas have been observed stopping in their tracks if the prey they are chasing goes in to another clan’s home range.
Lone males do sometimes range across the territory of other clans. Sometimes they will spend large amounts of time there and share their dens and kills which leads to the clan accepting them.
Vocalizations made by the spotted hyena include a whoop, grunt, groan, giggle, yell, growl, whine or squeal.
Humans and lions prey upon the spotted hyena.
Some studies have shown spotted hyenas to be capable of outdoing chimpanzees in tests of intelligence.
Spotted hyenas featured in Disney’s The Lion King.
This species is also referred to as the laughing hyena.
The word “crocuta” in their scientific name comes from a Latin word for an unknown animal of Ethiopia.
Their milk is the highest in terms of protein of any land carnivore.
By Appaloosa (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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Bohm, T. & Höner, O.R. 2015. Crocuta crocuta. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T5674A45194782. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T5674A45194782.en. Downloaded on 24 May 2020.
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