Fascinating Facts About the Spotted Hyena

Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

‘Ugly’, ‘cowardly’, ‘thieving’… It seems that nobody has anything good to say about Africa’s commonest large carnivore, the spotted hyena. Look beyond the popular prejudice, however, and you’ll find a complex, efficient and versatile predator, with some fascinating secrets...
  1. 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 civilisations believed hyenas to be hermaphrodites.
  2. Spotted hyenas suckle their young for up to 18 months – much longer than most carnivores.
  3. 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 5km.
  4. 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.
  5. The Maasai people of East Africa traditionally left out their dead to be consumed by spotted hyenas.
  6. In the case of spotted hyenas, females are larger than males and males are dominated by females.
  7. The mood of a spotted hyena can be understood from its different postures and its tail. Basically these postures are methods of communication. A hanging tail for instance says that a hyena is walking or standing leisurely. If the tail is tucked between its legs and is flat against its belly, it usually means it is afraid and is about to flee. If the tail is straight, it is about to attack and if the tail is carried high on its back, it is usually excited.