Hyena .. strange animals actually…

The spotted hyena is one out of four in the biological group Hyaenidae. (Now I’m sounding smart!)

Although phylogenetically (evolutionary) closer to cats, hyenas are behaviourally and morphologically (structurally) similar to dogs in several ways; both hyenas and dogs are nonarboreal (don’t climb trees), cursorial (adapted for running) hunters that catch prey with their teeth rather than claws. (Shooo now the internet is making me seem very clever.)

But this I do know, in the spotted hyena, unlike the other hyenas, the female is bigger than the male… Amazonian she is… The rear hyena is a female…

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Urogenital anatomy of the female spotted hyena.

In terms of their external genitalia, spotted hyenas are the most highly ‘masculinized’ extant female mammals. Female spotted hyenas display a fused scrotum, rather than the labia majora of a typical female mammal. The hypertrophied clitoris is similar in form to the male penis, and both female and male spotted hyenas display erections – often in the nonsexual context of ‘meeting ceremonies’ (from http://www.vet.cornell.edu/labs/place/docs/2006Glickmanetal.pdf just in case you want to read more)

WHAT????… it is saying that the female has a penis like protrusion so don’t go guessing the sex from that… I won’t go into the complicated description of sexual behaviour of the animals, but suffice it to say this female wears the pants and only one lucky male will get to cover her… talk about a woman on testosterone…

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The only other time I’ve seen hyena performing like these were, was after a territorial battle… and as there were hyena running off away from this pack, I assume that was the case again…

This lot must have been victorious as such friendly play is a form of bonding and strengthening the family unit…

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They ran around in all directions and one even wanted to chew on our plastic bumper of the van… but this was all victorious play and family bonding and there was even mock sexual acts… (two males..)

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More hyena photos to come… just some portrait photos when they posed for me…

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74 thoughts on “Hyena .. strange animals actually…

    • There is a certain chilling sound to the hyena chatter as I like to call it… and when this and the jackal call are heard together, you know something has died… chilling…

  1. I’m not going to comment on the privacy issues here, Rob. I really wanted to say that I know why they seem so shifty and like many of my former academic colleagues given what you explained about them in this post: being more like cats, the sexual organ confusion thing. Makes perfect sense!

    • Thanks Laura, there is just so much more to them than meets the eye… ugly is all we see, but behind those looks is a very complicated animal…

      • Aww that’s such a neat way of describing something I know not much about. Our society definitely focuses on outward appearance and forgets that what’s on the inside is what matters. Thank you .

  2. Other than to watch their behavior in documentaries, I know little about this animal. Thanks for some very interesting facts (and of course some amazing shots). 😉

    • This is the spotted hyena, probably the biggest and well known, Some of the others are rather mangy looking, but the brown hyena can either look magnificent or one that desperately needs a bath and hair cut…

      • I think our zoo ones are the spotted hyenas – they look enormous up close although they are partly hidden by grass. I sure wouldn’t want to get too close in the wild.

  3. I cannot say Hyenas are my favourite creatures, but it’s interesting to learn more about them. From what I have seen on TV they are very efficient and effective at what they do to survive.

    • They are super efficient animals and have a very structured pack and social life… wonderful animals to watch… I’ve a wonderful story shared in my book that shows how intelligent these animals are…

  4. Such mean-looking animals, bulldog, but I suppose that they have to do what they do, in order to survive. My sister had a visit from a couple of these when she was alone at a camp site, baking bread, while the guys were away. She fled back to her tent, and the bread burnt. Great captures as usual. Happy weekend to you. 🙂

    • Thanks AD.. I had one visit me every evening at a camp site I had in Rhodesia… just sat around waiting for me to toss it my left overs before it went off on a food hunt…

  5. Amazing shots again Rob and very educational as well. It’s fascinating to read up on their behaviour and I once watched a video where they charged a group of lions who were feeding and those lions fled. They are quite cheeky for sure. It’s not my favourite kind of animal, but just like you I love them because they are part of nature and they also do their part. Thanks for the link to the pdf. Now that was just as interesting to read and so educational. 🙂

    I do see you got better results in the comments than I did from mine though. Makes me love animals just more. I think some people just leave a comment because they think they must and I wish they wouldn’t. There are days where I think I should just disable all the comments just to avoid them but then there are those that you can see did really read the post and who are really interested, even if they don’t like the subject that was photographed and they do make up for the whole lot that is so ignorant. Sometimes I even wonder why I still bother.

    You and Linda must have a great weekend and waiting in anticipation for the next stunning show. 😀

    • Thanks Sonel… I have studied this animal in the wild for years and use the internet to get the habits over as I tend to be too long winded… I love that people comment on the posts I submit, some learn some just enjoy the photos, but if I teach just one person the smallest of thing about an animal or bird I feel I’ve achieved something… and if I can get just one person to want to come to our beautiful country then I’ve really done good… thanks for the comment and lovely words… I am still shuddering after your post today on the spider if I can call a tarantula a spider, at that size they should become part of the animal kingdom…

      • Yes, you must be a hyena lover to study them for sure. 🙂

        You’re welcome and I wouldn’t mind if they do. I think they are way more beautiful than any hyena. 😀

  6. We only glimpsed them from afar. I woke up early on several mornings in hopes of seeing more, but never did. I agree with Gilly, they are ugly cute.

    • They are wonderful animals to interact with, specially in the evenings when they come to camp fires to see if there might be a morsel or bone to be had… I love this animal and have studied it for many years… always pleased when i see them…

    • They are very important to the whole cycle of life out there in the bush… and they are quite clean in a hyena type of way… stink to us but they do seem favorable to each other…

    • Anneli… they are wonderfully interesting animals… clean up the veld with the vultures, and have a very social life… they are great to watch when not trying to chew on your bumper…

      • Okay, I’ll try to retract that judgment and keep an open mind. I think it’s the fault of Nat. Geo. films who portray them as thieves who harass lions, robbing them of their meals after the lions have done all the work.

        • Maybe you should watch those on Nat. Geo which show the Lion killing the hyena that are feeding young back at the den and stealing the food of the hyena that they have caught… lol… such is nature… “Eternal Enemies” shows a side to both lion and hyena that not many films can improve on…

    • Although long reputed to be cowardly scavengers, hyenas, especially spotted hyenas, kill as much as 95% of the food they eat… they are actually super predators, hunting in packs and like wild dogs virtually running their prey almost to a stand still… phenomenal stamina… however they are fast runners, even though their gait looks almost like a slow gallop and they can bring down big prey… the sexual thing took me a long time to figure out … couldn’t understand why they both had a thingy… specially when I saw both erect… but it is a fascinating animal and apart from their love of chewing on vehicle bumpers and tires, I’m always happy when I see them…

        • Not at all… the Bushman or San people mantain that if you stand taller than a hyena it wont come near you.. not so sure of their belief, but I have encountered many in the wilds and never had any of them threaten me… a friend was pulled from his tent by his feet by one, but his feet stank so we decided the animal thought him to be dead..lol… when he awoke the hyena took off more surprised than he was… historically there are stories of man eaters, but I just don’t believe those stories…

  7. Hyenas are really strange animals but your pictures managed to make them look a lot more ‘normal’ than I remember them to be. I thought they were rather scary creatures *shudder*

    • It is their looks that put most people off… the lower back than front makes them seem disabled and the fact that every one thinks they only scavenge is not good for their PRO… but they hunt for 95% of their food, they are very social and the pack structure very organised… they are actually given a bad deal in the veld by most guides, I love to watch and observe them… did so as a young lad and even at one of my camp sites in Rhodesia had one that came to see me every night for the small treat I shared with him before he went off in search of his main meal… used to sit on the edge of my camp light like a cat with his bum tucked under him and his back legs extended forward… I used to talk to him and he seemed quite calm to my conversations…

    • Know all the details, but need to get the wording from the internet or you would all have to read 2000 words if I explained it in my way… lol… I have studied this particular animal since being a young lad in Rhodesia… it is actually a fascinating animal with a strong social and pack structure… great hunters being very efficient in their kills…

  8. What a fabulous education you give all of us. Looking at these images, it’s easy to see that these critters mean business! Wouldn’t want them in my back yard.

    • I have never heard of them attacking humans, but a friend was pulled by his feet out of his tent by one… we all joked that his feet stunk so bad the hyena thought him dead… I have seen many in the veld when on foot unarmed and they have run rather than wait to see what I’m up to… however they are not cowards as most people think, they are known to chase lion off their kill, but only if the male lion is not around… fascinating animal…

  9. They don’t look like they are laughing…maybe a grin or grimace there. What’s with the laughing hyena phrase? (giggles …they look pretty rough – wouldn’t think of laughing at them…with them only if they insisted….) Interesting post and pictures

    • They are often referred to as the laughing hyena as their chilling chatter can easily be misconstrued as a laugh, a chilling laugh, but a laugh… thank you for the comment…

      • They echo weirdly in the zoo here (not a concrete boxed cage version – they’ve spent years creating open habitats – not as good as roaming free, but much better – and these never knew real life. Sad, yes. But they are here and cared for and people who can champion them hear their chatter) You are so lucky to see them as they should be

        • I am not fond of zoos because of the animals being restricted to smaller areas than they are used to, however the educational value of the zoo far out weighs the restriction an animal is held to… I tend to forget how lucky I am to have grown up with seeing all these animals in the wild and still to this day encountering them in their natural habitat,, Thanks for reminding me of that fact…

  10. Hi Rob,
    This is a really interesting post. Hyenas are unique and fascinating creatures in a repulsive kind of way–built to survive in a harsh world. I remember reading somewhere that they are born with teeth and that the firstborn in a littler has the advantage, because even before their eyes are open they are trying to kill their siblings. Your post makes me want to learn more about this creature, and maybe write one into a science fiction novel!

    • Hi Naomi… this is one of the most fascinating animals to study… a very social animal with strict pack behaviour, a fantastic hunter killing 95 % of its own food, closer to cats than dogs and generally given a bad name by ignorance of the facts… powerful animals that can chase a lion off its kill.. but an animal that I have studied since being a young lad in Rhodesia… yes the young battle from day one in the den.. and teeth are there before the eyes open… but nature demands that the strongest survive, so for them the battle starts on day one… thanks for the comment and I think their very nature would write itself into a science fiction story…

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