Ready to discover some unusual spotted hyena facts?


There are four hyena species in Africa:

The spotted, brown, striped hyena and the most timid of them all-  the aardwolf.

The spotted hyena is the most well known.


Why do they get referred to as laughing hyenas?

Their most distinctive call is a long rising whoop rising in pitch towards the end.

These are long-range signals to inform clan members of each others locations.

They have quite a rich repertoire of vocal signals.

Cubs whine when they beg for food or milk.

When chased off a kill they giggle.

If surprised or frightened they will give a series of short, quiet grunts.

Grunts and growls signal an imminent attack.

Fast whoops are used to attract members to carcasses and to recruit them for confrontations against lions.


Have a look at this picture

Can you you tell a dominant hyena from a submissive one?

hyena facts

The aggressive animal curls its tail over its back, pricks its ears forward and, keeps its mouth closed.

Here the spotted hyena on the right seems to be winning this battle.

A submissive hyena holds its ears low, opens its mouth and tucks its tail between its legs.

Grinning and laying the ears back displays a submissive greeting.

Their most distinctive call is a long rising whoop rising in pitch towards the end.

The calls are very loud and can carry for more than 5 km. These are long-range signals to inform clan members of each others locations.

Fast whoops are used to attract members to carcasses and to recruit them for confrontations against lions.


What is the dominance hierarchy in a spotted hyena clan?

laughing hyena facts

Unusually among mammals, females are larger than males and dominate them.

Cubs dominate males and once they have been admitted to the clan, immigrant males also outrank resident males.

Dominant animals are usually bigger than subordinates.

Cubs inherit the rank of the mother.

Only the highest-ranking immigrant male actually mates.

The privileges of being high-ranking females are priority access to food and to resting sites near the den entrance.

They also rear more cubs than low rankers.



Are these animals very territorial?

spotted hyena facts


Yes they are indeed territorial.

They mark their area by anal gland pasting especially near the borders of their territory.

They also mark areas by defecating in large middens and by pawing the ground to deposit smelly secretions from glands on their feet.

Most pasting near the den is done by males and young, low-ranking females.

Females are the clan warriors and tend to take the initiative in these clashes against rival groups.

Groups will patrol territory boundaries and scent-mark systematically.

Encounters between different clans may result in violent battles.

The battles usually involve all members of the two clans, in which the losers are savaged and killed.



Since we are looking at unusual hyena facts we need to clarify the following question that often arises ----------

Are spotted hyenas hermaphrodites?

Hermaphrodites are animals that are both male and female.

The females have assumed some male attributes, which lead to some confusion in differentiating the sexes.

The most puzzling feature is that females as well males, seem to have male genitals.

A female spotted hyena has an erectile pseudo penis and false scrotum filled with fat, which is as large as a male penis.

Females average about 10 kilogram more in weight than their male counterparts.

They have high levels of male hormones known as androgens, which might explain their dominating aggressiveness and large size.

They display a complex greeting ceremony, which clan members use to reinforce social bonds.

They recognize each other by sight and stand head to tail alongside each other while carefully inspecting the erect genitals of the partner.


Hyena cubs

The cubs are born in litters of one to four in dens that may be converted aardvark holes or caves.

They are born with eyes wide open and teeth well developed.


spotted hyena information

Female cubs inherit their mother’s rank and will fight furiously for this rank.

It is common behavior in a pair of twins for one to kill her sister.

Cubs are suckled until they are old enough to go along on foraging trips at about 14 months.

The cubs live on milk alone for six to nine month.

After this they begin to visit kills and take solid food.

They are weaned at 10 to 14 months.


In what habitat are you likely to spot these animals in the African bush?

spotted hyena pictures

They are most active at night but it is not unusual to see them in the early morning when they return to their den after a night out.

Look out for them during the day when they rest in shade.

You occasionally spot them lying in shallow water where they like to cool off.

They can be seen in a wide range of habitats but mostly in open woodland and savannas.


The more we know about hyenas the better we will understand the very important role that they play in the Ecosystems in which they live.



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Want to know more hyena facts?

On this page we look at:

Is the hyena a cowardly scavenger or do they hunt for their own food?

How do lions and hyenas get along?

What hunting techniques do hyenas use?

Are these animals very territorial?

What type of prey do hyenas prefer?

What social organization do these animals have?