Spotted Hyena

Spotted Hyena, Serengeti

Spotted Hyena, Serengeti

One of the most interesting mammals we have on earth, with unique matriarchal social aspects, bear-like appearance and ferocity, the spotted  hyena lives in sub-Saharan Africa.


The largest of the four extant species of hyena, the spotted hyena is about the size of a large german shepherd dog.  Adults measure 37-65 inches (95-165.8 cm) in body length, females in the Serengeti weigh more than the males, at 98-141 lbs (44.5-63.9 kg).


Hyena-close-up,-SerengetiA matriarchal species, females are larger than males, and dominate them.  The clans are also nepotistic, in that dominant female offspring outrank less-dominant female offspring.  All females are in higher rank than any male.


Unlike other hyena species, spotted hyena are not scavengers.  They are primarily hunters (but will scavenge if food is scarce).  As a carnivore–and opportunistic–they make the most efficient use of their kill, more than any other African carnivore, able to eat and digest hide, bones, and almost all body parts.


Hyena with Thompson's gazelle

Spotted hyena with Thompson’s gazelle

Their strong jaws outmatch the brown bear in bone crushing ability, and have 40 per cent more bite pressure than a leopard.


When we sat around the evening campfires with the guides, more than any other animal, they talked most fearfully about the hyena.


How many nights I went to bed, on my little cot in a canvas tent, visualizing the guides’ stories about one or another human victim who had their face bitten off by a hyena.


Hyena-pack-SerengetiWhat Crocuta crocuta hunt depends on where in Africa they live.  In the Serengeti, where these photos were taken, spotted hyena prefer wildebeest, zebra, and Thompson’s gazelle.


We had the grisly opportunity to observe the spotted hyena take down each of these three prey.  With a large heart, they are champions of endurance.


Hyena-at-pond-SerengetiOf the 280 species of Carnivora (placental mammals), the spotted hyena is the most social with the largest group sizes and most complex social behaviors.


Clan size varies depending on where they live and territory.  Behavior is sometimes more competitive than cooperative.  Read more about this unique mammal here.


Spotted Hyaena area.png

Spotted Hyena range. Courtesy Wikipedia.

A very vocal and vociferous mammal, the spotted hyena has a variety of different calls.  They whoop and groan, squeal and grunt, giggle, yell, and scream.  Also known as laughing hyenas, they have a different sound for each communication.


Fearsome hunters, matriarchal, highly opportunistic, and successful, this is a mammal that has intrigued humans for centuries.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Range map from Wikipedia

I am taking a summer break, my friends, will be back in two weeks.


73 thoughts on “Spotted Hyena

    • I feel the same way about hyenas, Morgan, I am SO glad you said this. They are indeed amazing creatures. Thanks, too, for the holiday wishes. Celebrating my wedding anniversary, a family reunion, and of course, going birding. I always appreciate your visits.

  1. I have to admit that the spotted hyena has always been a creature that has repulsed me! Something about their lope, the noises they make and yes their incredible strength and ferocity. However, having read your blog, once again I learn so much. I had no idea that it was such a female dominated society….and although I knew that they had great strength, I didn’t understand just how much. Had I heard the stories of human faces being torn off and then found myself sleeping under a fragile canvass, I too would have been somewhat scared:) I am also interested to learn that the spotted hyena is not a scavenger….another trait that has always put me off them. I can’t say that I find them any more attractive than before I read your blog, however, it is always good to learn so much. Thank you and enjoy a lovely week ahead. Janet:)

    • There’s nothing like a little bit of information to help us see one another in a different light. I appreciate your comments and thoughts on the hyena, Janet. The female society is extremely fascinating, and made me wonder if this amazing matriarchy will be more studied and revered, now that there are more women in the animal sciences. I hope so! My best to you, and thanks too~~

  2. I still remember the sound of hyenas of a night as Iay in my tent as I willed my bladder NOT to fill during the night, lol – have a fabulous two weeks!😃

    • This really made me laugh, Joanne, because the hyena night sounds really do send shivers up the spine. Thanks so much, as always, for your great comments and visits.

    • Yes, facing a hyena might mean you become faceless. lol. I’m glad you enjoyed the hyena post, and appreciate your funny comment (“gulp” made me laugh). Thank you Sue.

    • Thank you, Iris, for your good wishes. I’m glad you liked the post. I will be visiting family for a reunion and enjoying a wedding anniversary, and birding, in the middle of the country, in the state of Wisconsin. See you soon!

  3. I have a bit of a ‘love-hate ‘ relationship with these guys. They are quite amazing, but when one large male came face to face with my 5 year old son on a camp ground in Ethiopia, I chased

  4. What an interesting animal! I love how you champion some of the more challenging species – and an animal that’ll take your face off is challenging, I think. Another great post, engaging as ever!
    Have a wonderful trip!

    • I’m glad you appreciate my efforts to introduce all the creatures of the earth, pc. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately, pushing to complete my novel. So I really need to turn off the devices and just hang with the birds, the family, and my reading for a few days while visiting in Wisc. Looking forward to it. Thanks so much, my friend~~

  5. When away and safe you can’t help but develop a liking for such a beautiful and powerful creature with so many extraordinary charecteristics.Interesting post dear Jet,compelling details and fantastic photos!IStunned by the female’s dominant appearance and the matriarchic norms in their complex society.Rich vocalisation also,you said they have a different sound for each communication.Isn’t it magnificent?Menacing its personality,the guide’s fierce stories make one’s blood run cold,but they have to defend themselves somehow when in danger.Enjoy your summer break,dear friend!All the best to you & Athena 🙂 ♥ ※

  6. Amazing blog post! I think that Spotted hyena is one of the most fascinating creatures, yet they are hated because of their opportunistic tendencies 🙂 I always read whatever I find about them. Thank you for sharing, and best wishes for your summer break adventures!

  7. Not knowing much about the Hyenas, I am amazed to learn so much here of these very interesting creatures. I surely don’t think I could lay in a tent at night and hear them in the distance, worrying they might be approaching. No way! You are amazing, enduring situations as fearless as you can be all while seeing and experiencing so much more than most of us ever will. I am in awe with your experiences. Have a marvelous break, Jet!

    • Thanks so much, Donna, for your kind and thoughtful comment. I’m glad you enjoyed learning about the hyena. I had a great trip–travel, family, and birds–and am glad to be back. I look forward to reading about your recent adventures out west.

  8. A really fascinating post, Jet. My sister had a visit from a couple of hyenas when she was alone at their campsite. She was busy baking bread on the fire when they appeared. She retreated into the tent and eventually the hyenas went away. Not sure what happenend to the bread. 🙂

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