Hyenas are fascinating animals. They live in Africa and Asia and are known for their unique hunting techniques.
The word “hyena” comes from the Persian words “Hind” (a landlocked desert region) and “Ghar” (camel). They are social carnivores who hunt together.
Dog-like hyenas were wiped out by sabre-tooth cats. Bone-crushing hyenas didn’t cross over to North America, but they still lived in Europe.
Their size was huge, and they were very strong. They ate big meaty things like elephants. Bone-crushing Hyenas were replaced by the smaller Crocotta.
Striped hyenas were first found in Africa. They lived there until the ice age when they migrated out of Africa into Europe. They then moved into other parts of the world.. They were hunted by humans because they ate livestock.
Hyenas are fierce predators that hunt together. They hunt antelopes, deer, wildebeest, gazelle, bison, sheep, goats, and rhinos. Hyenas are also known to attack lions, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and other large mammals.
They use their teeth to tear flesh, and then eat it. Hyenas have sharp carnassial teeth, which allow them to kill and dismember their prey. Hyenas can climb trees, run fast, swim, and jump.
They are also known for their ability to communicate using vocalizations called barks. The male is larger than the female and the females have smaller teeth.
Both parents take care of the young, but while the mother suckles her cubs, the father keeps watch from a distance. As they get older, male hyenas develop sharp claws on their front paws which aid them in fighting off rival males.
Check our 60 fascinating facts about hyenas below!
60 Amazing Hyena Facts
1. A female can give birth up to four times per year
2. Baby hyenas stay close to their mothers until they’re two years old
3. Females may start breeding at three or four years of age
4. Males reach sexual maturity at around six years old
5. Male hyenas become aggressive after reaching sexual maturity
6. Hyenas live between 10-30 years in captivity. Some older specimens have lived as long as 40 years.
7. The life expectancy of wild hyenas is five to seven years, but it’s believed that many do not survive past 12 years due to injury or disease
9. When hyenas suffer from injuries, they’ll often howl excessively because pain affects their sense of smell.
10. Hyenas have been observed biting through wood, metal, rubber, glass, bone, leather, stone and concrete
11. Because hyenas have poor eyesight, they rely heavily on their powerful senses of hearing and smell to find food.
12. Their short legs allow them to run quickly over the ground but they don’t climb trees.
13. In captivity, hyenas can be trained to perform tricks such as balancing an egg on their noses
14. Hyenas produce lots of saliva which they use to clean themselves.
15. To prevent attacks by lions and leopards, hyenas will use their tails as weapons. If threatened, they lash out repeatedly and knock things off shelves and tables. This is similar to how dogs protect themselves from other animals.
16. For protection, hyenas dig holes or caves underground into which they retreat during cold weather and rain. They also seek shelter under large rocks or bushes.
17. Despite being solitary hunters, hyenas frequently cooperate with one another to catch prey.
18. They tend to keep away from other predators such as vultures, jackals, tigers, wolves, crocodiles and elephants.
19. Hyenas are very intelligent animals.
20. As you might expect, hyenas travel extensively searching for food and mates. Although they mainly hunt alone, they’ll often form alliances with other hyenas to attack new arrivals or to defend territory.
21. During mating season, a female hyena can give birth once every 15 days instead of every 27 months.
22. Sometimes called “the scavenger,” this large carnivore eats carrion, bones and garbage left behind by people.
23. Even though hyenas eat dead animals, most of them won’t kill other living animals. Instead, they usually prefer insects, small rodents or reptiles.
24. Hyenas are natural enemies to lions and leopards. They try to avoid situations where these big cats might attack them if they come across each other.
25. The spots on a hyena’s coat change color depending on its mood. Dark spots show excitement while light spots indicate fearfulness.
26. A hyena will mark its territory with urine; however, females do not need to urinate to call attention to their territory.
27. When a hyena enters water—such as rivers, lakes, ponds, pools, streams or irrigation ditches—it may swim, dive or walk along bottom vegetation, mud banks, logs or floating debris.
28. While in water, a hyena needs to breathe air every two minutes; otherwise, it would drown. This means that it can only stay underwater for 20 to 30 seconds at a time.
29. There’s just a 1 in 10 million chance of being killed by a hyena.
30. In Africa, it’s estimated that there are more than 400,000 hyenas. You’re much less likely to encounter one in North America.
32. Hyenas were originally found in Central Asia before migrating southward through Europe, then spreading throughout southern Eurasia and finally arriving in Africa.
33. The largest population of wild hyenas lives in Sudan, followed by Ethiopia, South Africa and Tanzania.
34. Hyenas are also found in India, Pakistan, China, Japan, Russia and Mongolia.
35. Some scientists believe that the ancestors of modern hyenas originated in North America around 2,000 years ago when European settlers began to arrive. Most domesticated domestic breeds have been derived from African species.
36. The smallest captive specimens weigh between 40-70 pounds (18 – 31 kg). The biggest ones weigh between 300 and 600 pounds (136 – 272 kg) and reach sexual maturity between 5 and 14 years old.
37. On average, a wild hyena has an adult life span of 8.3 years.
38. A hyena is able to produce 4 litters per year, although some individuals never reproduce.
39. An average litter contains 10 puppies which measure between 3 and 5 inches long (7 cm).
40. Female hyenas start lactating at puberty and can produce milk up until they reach middle age—approximately 6 to 12 years old.
41. Hyenas spend almost all of their waking hours eating, sleeping and resting.
43. Their sense of smell is 25 times better than humans. Each nostril smells different odors, allowing for accurate identification of prey.
44. As adults, hyenas don’t develop sharp teeth like those seen in cats. Instead, they have flat molars equipped with chewing muscles, meaning they don’t require sharp incisors.
45. Hyenas use anal scent glands to communicate with each other.
46. The hyena was the first mammal named by ancient Egyptians.
47. Although hyenas are considered nocturnal, many will leave their dens during daylight hours if given the opportunity to hunt.
48. Some experts believe that the prehistoric saber tooth lion evolved into the hyena because it had already lost most of its canine teeth.
49. Mother hyenas take turns nursing their offspring.
50. Mothers teach their pups how to survive in the den for three weeks after leaving the nest.
51. Hyenas prefer warm climates.
53. In some cultures, hyenas are revered and held sacred.
54. Hyenas take advantage of other animals’ kills for easy meals, but also hunt wildebeest, antelope, hippos, birds, jackals, lizards, fish, snakes, foxes, porcupines, eggs and insects.
55. Adult females can go longer periods without feeding if food is scarce. They continue this fasting technique while waiting to give birth to another litter.
56. As adults, hyena’s bodies are covered with fur, enabling them to hide easily from predators. Their thick coats protect them against extreme temperatures while they sleep or rest.
57. Unlike dogs, hyenas do not walk on two legs. Instead, they walk on four limbs using their back paws as support. This makes them similar to cheetahs.
58. Most hyena populations live in groups or herds, which can contain over a hundred animals.
59. The oldest known hyena fossil dates back to approximately 35 million years ago.
60. Hyenas’ brains are small compared to their body size, accounting for just 1% of their total weight.
Hyenas are predators who hunt during the day and sleep at night. They are very strong and fast and tend to eat meat and bones. They are found in savannas, grasslands, and forests.
Their diet includes insects, rodents, reptiles, birds, eggs, carrion, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Hyenas are about two-thirds the size of lions and have shorter legs than other cats. Hyenas are solitary but form groups called clans.
Each clan consists of several females and males, and they stay together year-round and travel long distances. They have been known to move hundreds of miles at a time.
As human populations and agricultural practises expand, the habitats of hyenas are threatened. They are also seen by many farmers as pests when they prey on their livestock, which unfortunately means that many of these fascinating animals are killed.