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Spotted Hyena Information

Spotted hyena standing, side view, Kruger National Park Spotted Hyena Quick Facts

Family: Hyaenedae (Hyenas)
Scientific name: Crocuta crocuta
Average shoulder height: 85 cm
Weight: 60 - 80 kg
Gestation period: 110 days
Life expectancy: 15 - 20 years

Spotted hyena close-up of head Spotted hyena, close up of head and powerful jaws

The spotted hyena is the largest and most common hyena. Other members of the Hyaenidae family are the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), and aardwolf (Protelas cristatus).

The spotted hyena has unmistakable, heavily-built front legs which stand higher then its hind quarters, giving the impression of a sloping back. The spotted hyena's coat is an off-white backround colour with dark brown spots. These spots tend to fade with age.

The head, neck and lower parts of the limbs are unspotted. This animal's head is massive and broad, with very strong jaws. The muzzle is dark brown, while the ears are small and rounded. There is a short crest of coarse hair from the head to the shoulders. The tail is bushy with a dark tip.

Spotted hyenas are highly gregarious, living in groups or "clans" led and dominated by females. The group shares the same den and can comprise from three to 80 individuals. However, in place of co-operation as happens with other social carnivores like lions or wild dogs, the spotted hyena has an openly competitive system in which dominance of the individual is paramount.

Females are bigger and more aggressive than males, and females dominate in any social situation or occasion where there is competition for resources. See Spotted Hyenas Burdened with Hermaphrodite Myth for more about female hyena domination.

Spotted hyenas are mainly nocturnal but are also often sighted during the day, especially in cool weather. They are territorial animals and mark their territories by anal gland pasting. Most of this is done by the males and young, low ranking females.

Spotted hyena mother suckling her pup
Spotted hyena mother suckling her pup

Reproduction: Spotted hyenas usually have from one to four pups which are born in the summer months after a gestation period of 110 days.

Two or more females may keep the young in the same burrow for several months.

The pups are born a dark brown colour with lighter heads. Spots begin to appear at four months old.

Hyena scavenging on carcass of eland antelope
Hyena scavenging on carcass of eland antelope


Diet: Spotted hyenas are renowned and highly successful scavengers, relying on scent and vultures circling overhead to find carcasses. They are, however, also accomplished hunters, killing up to 75% of their own prey. They usually target medium- to large-sized antelope.

Spotted hyenas rely on their speed and stamina to run down their prey instead of stalking and can run as fast as 60km per hour over distances of four to five kilometers. They will also chase other predators, particularly cheetah, from their kills (see Cheetahs Surrender Kill to Pack of Hungry Hyenas).

Spotted hyenas are very vocal animals with a variety of different sounds. The main call is a long drawn-out who-o-oops, rising in pitch and trailing out into a low moan. This distinctive call can be heard from five km away. They also also grunt, groan, and giggle.

For additional information about the spotted hyena, see our gallery of Hyena Pictures.

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