If you base your knowledge about hyenas on their role in the movie, The Lion King, then you might have the wrong impression. These dog-like creatures in the animated film may have been villain sidekicks, but do not let that mislead you. They are actually incredible mammals who deserve to be under the spotlight.
There are four different species of hyenas that inhabit Asian and African forests and savannas: the spotted, striped, brown, and the aardwolf. Contrary to popular belief, hyenas are not related to dogs. In fact, they are closer to the cat family than they are to dogs.
In the animal kingdom, hyenas have been so underrated, with most people seeing them as dim-witted cowards, but they are actually smarter than average carnivores, curious, and opportunistic when it comes to hunting for prey. That being said, it is hard not to be curious about the hyena’s teeth. Let’s explore how hyena’s teeth have helped them prosper in environments with fierce predators like lions and leopards.
How Many Teeth Do Hyenas Have?
The spotted or laughing hyenas, the most common and the largest group of hyenas, have 32-34 teeth that include conical premolars, specialized for breaking and crushing bones.
Unique from other carnivores, hyenas are distinguished by their incredible bone-crushing teeth. Hyenas display short, yet strong canines that protrude towards the front of the jaw. Gigantic carnassials are also found deep at the back of their jaws from which they can exercise the greatest amount of leverage. These carnassials are strong enough and perfect for crushing all the bones of prey, even as massive as wildebeests. Hyenas can consume too much bone material that even their droppings generate a chalky white hue.
How Strong is a Hyena’s Bite Force?
Hyenas can give a powerful bite that is enough to kill their prey and crush their bones, including the entire skeleton. It can have a bite force up to 1,100 psi, making hyenas’ bite the 7th strongest among all animals, following the polar bear which has a bite force of 1,200 psi.
A single section of the spotted hyena’s dentition, the molars and premolars, has acquired giant jaw muscles, which allow them to create enormous levels of force.
Even though hyenas appear to be substantially smaller than many other predatory mammals, their jaws are more powerful than those of some giant cats. As hunters, lions, for instance, may seem larger and more resolute than hyenas, but only have a bite force of around 650 psi, making them the 10th animal with the strongest bite. Hyenas, on the other hand, have a bite force of approximately 1,100 pounds per square inch (psi) or over 9,000 newtons, which allows them to split open bones that are nearly 2 ½ inches wide, thanks to their vice-like grasp and canines that are sharp and strong enough to cut through bone and thick meat. This enables hyenas to gain access to the nutrient-dense marrow found within the carcass, which is otherwise impenetrable to other animals.
Can Hyenas Digest Bones and Teeth?
As mentioned, hyenas have a lot of amazing abilities unique only to their family, which is also why they cannot be categorized as simply a species of dogs or felines. They are distinctively from the family Hyaenidae, and they have bewildering abilities that most carnivores do not possess.
These abilities include their unique skill to ingest and digest hard materials such as horns, bones, hooves, and even teeth. Hyenas can literally eat anything. All of this gets digested in a 24-hour period, which is incredible. Their ability to utilize prey resources more thoroughly and effectively than other carnivores gives hyenas a major edge over the rest of Africa’s wildlife population.
What Do Hyenas Eat?
As meat-eaters who consume all their food up to the last bite including the bones, teeth, and horns, hyenas are well-known to be clean eaters.
Hyenas consume their prey up to the very last piece, and their diet comprises various sorts of flesh. Hyenas can be scavengers, as well as predators. The spotted hyena is the most ferocious hyena species, killing using its short but powerful canines. A spotted hyena’s food consists of average-sized to large mammals such as wildebeests, cattle, goats, sheep, and even giraffes. Both the striped and brown hyenas are scavengers, so they eat out the flesh of dead large animals usually left by other predators. Brown hyenas usually eat carrion meat, while striped hyenas eat the decaying bones, bone marrow, and ligaments of these carcasses. Aardwolves, on the other hand, feed on insects and termites, which they trap with their sticky tongue.
Can Hyenas Bite Lions?
Hyenas rarely prey on lions. They may have a stronger bite force than them, but they are not physically stronger. When hyenas hunt in groups, they can be quite dangerous for small lions, isolated lions, or unprotected cubs.
Having said that, hyenas will only attack if the circumstances are at their advantage. Hyenas and lions eat almost the same diet, making them compete against each other over prey. A lion will frequently target adult hyenas to demonstrate its power, thus making the two mammals enemies. Lion assaults are responsible for 60% of hyena deaths. In a 1999 event, hyenas and lions went into a week-long war in an Ethiopian desert, and left 30 hyenas and 6 lions dead at the end of it all.
A hyena has little to no chance against a lion in a death match. It would never confront a lion on its own. Clans are the source of their strength. As a result, hyenas often act in large groups, scaring off smaller lion families.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/dlrz4114
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