Baby Hyena: 11 Pictures and 10 Amazing Facts

Hyena evening sunset light. Hyena, detail portrait. Spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta, angry animal near the water hole, beautiful evening sunset and cub. Animal pup nature, Okavango delta, Botswana
© Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kellianne Matthews

Updated: September 22, 2023

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Hyenas often get a bad reputation — but baby hyenas, also known as cubs, are some of the most fascinating and unique creatures in the animal kingdom! With boundless energy and insatiable curiosity, these little fur balls love exploring their surroundings, meticulously sniffing everything in sight. Baby hyenas are intelligent and learn quickly, as they develop hunting skills and secure their place among their relatives. And of course, they’re just plain cute! So, let’s take a look at some adorable baby hyena pictures, along with several amazing facts about these unique animals!

1. There Are Four Different Species of Baby Hyenas

Striped Hyaena (Hyaena hyaena) with a cub in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park

Striped hyenas are the second smallest hyena species and can weigh 50 to 120 pounds as adults.

©Stu Porter/Shutterstock.com

The hyena family (Hyaenidae) consists of four different species. The one most of us are familiar with is the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), which also plays a major role in Disney’s film, The Lion King. Spotted hyenas live in Sub-Saharan Africa and are the largest hyena species, weighing 89 to 150 pounds. The brown hyena (Parahyaena brunnea), on the other hand, is a much rarer species found in South Africa. Brown hyenas have an unusual appearance when compared to the rest of their family, with long shaggy hair and pointed ears.

The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is a near-threatened species that lives in North and East Africa, the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and Central Asia. And last but not least, the aardwolf (Proteles cristata) is the smallest hyena species, weighing only 15 to 22 pounds!

2. Baby Hyenas Are Born with Open Eyes and Sharp Teeth

Hyena mother with babies

Baby spotted hyena cubs are dark and have no spots when they are born.

©Alta Oosthuizen/Shutterstock.com

Most carnivorous mammal babies are born with closed eyes and toothless mouths. Baby striped and brown hyena cubs follow this trend, coming into the world with their eyes closed. However, baby spotted hyenas and aardwolves are quite exceptional, as they are born with their eyes wide open. They burst into the world ready to face life head-on, despite their adorable tiny bodies! In addition, baby spotted hyenas possess incisors and canine teeth from birth. 

3. Female Baby Hyenas Have a “Pseudo-Penis”

Hyena pack

Spotted hyena clans are led by the female members of the group.

©iStock.com/Franz Schallmeiner

Yes, you read that right; female spotted hyenas have many very unique physical features, including an elongated and modified clitoris that closely resembles a male penis. The external genitalia of female spotted hyenas are so similar to males that for many years people used to believe these animals were hermaphrodites (which they are not, in case you’re wondering). 

Inside the female hyena’s body, her reproductive tract contains a uterus and ovaries similar to those of other mammals. However, instead of her vaginal canal exiting her body under the tail like in other carnivores, it takes a hairpin turn there and exits ventrally through the pseudo-penis. Female spotted hyenas urinate, mate, and even give birth through this “pseudo-penis” or modified clitoris.

4. Giving Birth to a Baby Spotted Hyena Is Extremely Difficult

Hyena mother with young cub

Birth is a dangerous experience for both hyena mothers and their cubs.

©Dave Pusey/Shutterstock.com

Female spotted hyenas are incredibly unique creatures. They have more testosterone than the males, which makes them more muscular, larger, and stronger. The social structure of spotted hyenas is matriarchal, meaning that it is run by the dominant females. And of course, they have very unusual anatomy. Unfortunately, however, this also makes the whole process of giving birth much more difficult. 

Instead of a regular birth canal like most animals, female hyenas actually give birth through their clitoris (also known as the pseudo-penis). But here’s the thing: the birth canal of a hyena is only about one inch wide! Unfortunately, many hyena babies don’t make it out alive because their moms are having a tough time giving birth for the first time.

5. Baby Hyenas Have Excellent Mothers

Mother hyena licking cub

Female hyenas are extremely devoted mothers.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Hyenas are actually some of the best moms in the entire animal kingdom! Female hyenas put a ton of energy into taking care of their babies. They are pregnant for about 90 to 110 days depending on the species and give birth to one to five adorable baby cubs in a litter. 

In spotted hyenas, only the mother cares for the cubs. Female hyenas produce a ton of milk for a very long time, allowing their cute hyena babies to nurse on milk and other supplemental foods for a year or even a year and a half. Of all the carnivores on earth, hyena mothers have the highest energetic investment per litter, going above and beyond to make sure their cute babies grow up strong and healthy. In addition, female spotted hyenas produce milk that is extremely high in fat and protein — it is richer than the milk of any other carnivorous land animal! 

6. Some Baby Hyenas Also Have Wonderful Fathers

Striped hyena and young cubs

Both female and male striped hyenas help care for their young.

©Vladislav T. Jirousek/Shutterstock.com

With the exception of spotted hyenas, fathers in the other three species play an active role in their families. The baby aardwolf hyena, for example, spends the first six to eight weeks of its life safely tucked in a den with its parents. At night, the mother goes out to hunt for food while the father stays and watches over the young baby hyenas. Similarly, striped hyenas are monogamous animals, and both the mother and father work together to care for and raise their young cubs. 

And then there are brown hyenas — this unique species has a special social structure much like a wolf pack, and each member assists with caring for new hyena babies. Typically, only the dominant female has cubs, but in a very unusual turn of events, she mates with nomadic males that are not part of her clan! However, the rest of her clan — including the males — have no issue with raising the baby hyenas. Additionally, two female hyenas in a clan may occasionally give birth at the same time. But again, this is not a problem at all; the two mothers help each other out by taking turns nursing both sets of cubs like one big happy family.

7. One Type of Baby Hyena Only Eats Bugs!

aardwolf cub in den

Baby aardwolf hyenas weigh just seven to 12 ounces when they are born!

©iStock.com/Thomas Retterath

Hyenas are carnivores and eat meat. However, how and where they obtain that meat differs from species to species. For example, striped hyenas and brown hyenas primarily scavenge for their food. Brown hyenas, however, also hunt small insects, rodents, and eggs. Occasionally they even supplement their diet by foraging for fungi and fruit! On the other hand, spotted hyenas are active hunters who work together in packs to take down large animals like zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, and warthogs. 

However, the most unusual hunters of the hyena family are the aardwolves. Aardwolf hyenas are the only insectivorous hyena species out there! Their name comes from Dutch and Afrikaans and means “earth-wolf”, referring to their diet. Baby aardwolf hyenas begin learning how to forage for insects and larvae when they are three months old. Aardwolves mainly eat termites with their long and sticky tongues — even up to 300,000 termites in just one night! 

8. Baby Hyenas Sometimes Practice Neonatal Siblicide

Hyena family in South Africa.

Hyenas live together in structured social groups with strict hierarchies.

©Alexandree/Shutterstock.com

As we’ve seen so far, life can be violent and difficult for spotted hyenas, even amongst baby hyena cubs. For many years, researchers believed that spotted baby hyenas actively practiced neonatal siblicide, which is where one sibling harms or even kills another sibling. However, recent research now suggests that siblicide in spotted hyenas is more of a choice or evolutionary defense in dire circumstances — something they might do when the competition for food is very fierce. 

Siblicide is all about the environment hyenas are in and how much they have to compete for food and nourishment. For example, when there is plenty of food nearby, mothers don’t have to travel as far and can give more of their attention to their cubs. However, when food is scarce, mothers may have to travel over 40 miles to find food. This means that they have less time and energy to care for their cubs — which is when siblicide may occur. 

9. Baby Hyenas Are Very Social and Smart

Spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta

Baby hyenas are socially and emotionally intelligent animals.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Hyenas are typically very social animals. Spotted hyenas, for example, live in large groups, sometimes with up to 80 members!  Baby spotted hyena cubs are very smart and quickly learn the complex social behaviors of the group. By the time they are just a month old, they begin to act a lot like adults. Baby hyenas also have exceptional memories and can remember the countless individuals and interactions they have even while they are still very young. 

10. Many Baby Hyenas Are Threatened with Extinction

Baby brown hyenas

Brown hyenas are poor hunters and primarily scavenge for their food.

©flowcomm / CC BY 2.0 – Original / License

Hyenas often get a bad reputation, especially spotted hyenas. Unfortunately, this negatively affects their survival, both in the wild as well as in captivity. In fact, two species of hyenas are now threatened with extinction. The first, the brown hyena, is listed as a Near-Threatened species on the IUCN Red List. There are only around 4,000 to 10,000 individuals left in the wild. 

Unfortunately, the biggest threat to brown hyenas comes from humans who mistakenly believe that these scavengers actively kill their livestock. When brown hyenas venture outside of protected areas, humans frequently trap, poison, shoot, and hunt them with dogs. In addition, brown hyenas also fall victim to lethal measures like poison and snares used to control other problem animals. Some people also hunt brown hyenas for traditional medicine practices.

The spotted hyena is also listed as Near Threatened, with less than 10,000 individuals remaining. Experts believe that their populations will continue to decline over the next several generations by at least 10%. Like other hyena species, humans consistently cling to negative beliefs about spotted hyenas, associating them with superstitions or seeing them as grave robbers. Spotted hyenas are commonly poisoned — both accidentally and intentionally — as they easily fall for bait and dead animals that have been poisoned. 

However, hyenas are remarkable creatures that play a vital role in the ecosystem. For example, hyenas act as the invaluable cleanup crew of the animal kingdom! As scavengers, they dutifully consume carcasses, preventing the spread of diseases and maintaining a clean environment. Hyenas also serve as a vital food source for predators such as lions and leopards, supporting the delicate balance of nature.

A tiny baby Spotted Hyena cub with all black fur close up

Baby spotted hyena cubs are born with their eyes open.

©Dave Pusey/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on anthrozoology, conservation, human-animal relationships, and animal behavior. Kellianne has been writing and researching animals for over ten years and has decades of hands-on experience working with a variety of different animals. She holds a Master’s Degree from Brigham Young University, which she earned in 2017. A resident of Utah, Kellianne enjoys creating, exploring and learning new things, analyzing movies, caring for animals, and playing with her cats.

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