MammalMAP: Spotted Hyena
Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) are the largest of the three hyena species. The earliest records first described hyenas as a dog hybrid but they are more closely related to cats. Spotted hyenas are identified by their sandy, yellowish coat with dark brown or black spots all over its body. These hyenas are strongly built and weigh between 50 – 86 kgs. Females tend to be larger than males but both sexes look similar to each other.
If your first instinct is to look between a hyena’s legs in order to tell the sexes apart, you’re in for a surprise. The genitalia of female hyenas are remarkably similar to their male counterparts. The current theory for this sexual mimicry is that females that look like males are protected from aggression from other females in the clan.
Spotted hyenas are renowned for their scavenging behaviour but they are skilled hunters as well. They have exceptional hearing and excellent night vision. A clan will work together to isolate a herd animal and pursue it to its death. Common prey items are antelope, wildebeest, zebra but they also consume birds, reptiles and insects. Spotted hyenas act aggressively toward each other when feeding but they compete with each other by the speed of eating instead of directly fighting with one another.
Spotted hyenas have the greatest parental investment in their young. Females have a litter of 1 – 4 cubs that are only weaned at 14 months. Typically, only two cubs are born. Their mother’s milk is extremely high in protein and fat and females are highly protective of them. At first, a female will not tolerate other hyenas around her cubs.
Spotted hyenas are listed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN Red list.
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