10 Incredible Hyena Facts

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: July 7, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Franz Schallmeiner
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Hyenas are popular among human beings, but, many times, not for the right reasons. The average person doesn’t consider the animal beautiful or graceful. For many people, these beasts are merely scavengers with a sense of humor that makes them laugh. It also doesn’t help their reputation that they were behind the death of the “Mufasa” in Disney’s “Lion King.”

However, there are many other facts about these creatures that may surprise you. We have compiled 10 incredible facts below.

1. Female hyenas run the show

Hyena Birth - hyena pack
In hyena clans, the females are the dominant and more aggressive ones.

iStock.com/Franz Schallmeiner

In hyena clans, particularly the spotted hyena clans, the females are the dominant and more aggressive ones. They are the first to eat, alongside their cubs. They are also the ones that decide if a male cub may be accepted into a clan after it has been kicked out of its birth clan.

2. Hyenas may just be smarter than monkeys

Scientists have conducted experiments that reveal that hyenas solve social problems better than chimps. According to a study conducted at Duke University, a pair of captive hyenas performed better on tests of problem-solving and social cooperation than chimpanzees. The reason for this may be linked to the fact that hyenas live in complex societies possessing delicate social rules. Another interesting thing about these tests is that the animals cooperated expertly without the need for verbal communication.

3. Hyenas are actually good at hunting

hyenas preying on lions
Contrary to popular belief, hyenas are very good at hunting.

iStock.com/Staincliffe

The average person believes that hyenas are purely or majorly scavengers, feeding off the remains of the kills that lions make. This narrative is then helped further by Disney’s “Lion King.” However, it turns out that this is false and that hyenas are very good at hunting. In fact, up to 95% of what spotted hyenas eat is something that they kill themselves. Indeed, hyenas scavenge, but that is no reason to imagine that they don’t know how to get a good kill. They do.

Another notable aspect of hyenas hunting is the frenzy in which they consume food. They can consume a full zebra, including all its bones, in less than 30 minutes.

4. Not all hyenas laugh

This may be a surprise, but of all the four types of hyenas, only the spotted hyena actually laughs. Furthermore, the laugh of a hyena has nothing to do with having a sense of humor.

Hyenas laugh when they are frustrated or excited. For instance, a hyena may laugh when another one steals its food. You should also note that the pitch of a hyena’s laughter helps to determine the age of that hyena.

5. Female hyenas have a pseudo penis

If you intend to tell a female spotted hyena from a male using their genitals, you may be left confused. This is because the females have a pseudo penis that looks just like the male ones. This penis is actually an elongation of their clitoris, and it is called a penile-clitoris. Just in case you are wondering, the female urinates, mates, and gives birth through its penile-clitoris.

6. Male spotted hyenas have incredibly hard lives

Are Hyenas Dogs
Male spotted hyenas are kicked out of their birth clan when they reach sexual maturity.

gualtiero boffi/Shutterstock.com

To be a male spotted hyena is to have a hard life. When male spotted hyenas reach sexual maturity at two years of age, they are kicked out of their birth clan and left to find another clan. Finding another clan is usually vicious and violent, and joining that clan is not necessarily the end of their struggles.

In fact, a part of the welcoming rites may include harassment because they become the lowest ranking part of the clan. A minor consolation, however, may be that the female hyenas usually prefer mating with the lowest ranking males.

7. Some cultures in Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa believe that people can transform into hyenas

It is a traditional belief in Ethiopia that every blacksmith whose trade is hereditary has the power to change into a hyena. These blacksmiths supposedly rob graves at night, and they are called bouda. Interestingly, the concept of bouda is present in Tanzania and Sudan. In Morocco, it is also a belief that some men and women live in two worlds – hyenas in the night and humans in the day.

Other non-African cultures also have their myths about hyenas. Three prominent examples are Persians, ancient Romans, and Greeks.

8. Hyenas and lions have gone to war in real life, not just in Lion King

lion vs hyena
In 1999, the Goebel Desert in Ethiopia was home to a week-long battle between hyenas and lions.

A-Z-Animals.com

We all know that hyenas alongside “Scar” battled the lions and “Simba” in “Lion King.” However, that is not the only time there has been an all-out war between both animals. In 1999, the Goebel Desert in Ethiopia was home to a week-long battle between hyenas and lions. By the time the dust settled on the war, the lions had the upper hand, killing thirty-five hyenas. The hyenas, however, killed six lions.

Apart from this battle, there are usually clashes between these two animals because they go after the same prey. As seen from the above war, the lions are usually victorious, though a pack of hyenas may be able to take down a single lion.

9. Hemingway was not thrilled by hyenas

In case you don’t like hyenas, you are not alone, as a legendary novelist, Ernest Hemingway, also seemed to dislike the animals. In his book, “The Green Hills of Africa,” he described them with rather harsh words such as “hermaphroditic self-eating devourer of the dead,” “stinking,” “foul,” and “potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept,” amongst others. Those words are definitely not used for people or animals that one fancies.

The physical appearance of the hyena is closer to that of dogs, especially when you look at their head. However, experts have noted that they are more closely related to cats. Interestingly, they are neither in the dog nor cat family. Instead, they are in a unique family of their own, called Hyaenidae. There are four members of this family, and they are the brown hyena, the spotted hyena, the striped hyena, and the aardwolf.

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