What Do Hyenas Eat? A Guide to Their Diet

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: April 14, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/dlrz4114
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Hyenas are one of the most misunderstood mammals in the wild. They are often seen as dim-witted scavengers who feast only on the carcasses left over by other predators. But in reality, these dog-like creatures have so much to offer behind their menacing laughter, especially when it comes to hunting for prey.

Hyenas may possess an appearance that looks like those of wolves and dogs, but these carnivorous mammals are actually much closer to felines than they are to canines. Hyenas belong to their own family, Hyaenidae, which consists of four different species: the brown hyena, striped hyena, spotted hyena, and the aardwolf.

Contrary to popular belief, hyenas are highly-skilled hunters who can take down prey that are larger than them, such as wildebeests, antelopes, and sometimes even lions. Below, let’s explore what food hyenas like to eat and how they thrive in the wild filled with other predators.

What Do Hyenas Eat?

What Do Hyenas Eat
As carnivores, hyenas eat zebras, rabbits, warthogs and are also known to be scavengers who feed on carcasses.

A-Z-Animals.com

Hyenas are carnivores who eat a diet that consists of other mammals like zebras, gazelles, giraffes, birds, rabbits, warthogs, snakes, insects, wildebeests, antelopes, wild dogs, and others. They are also known scavengers who feed on leftover carcasses by other predators in the wild.

Hyenas are not choosy when it comes to food and are in fact, well-known to have a big appetite. They also have really powerful jaws and teeth that can crush their victims’ flesh and bones. A hyena’s bite alone is so powerful that a single one can cripple a wild dog

Hyenas are said to be clean eaters, as they often do not leave any edible parts of their prey for other predators to feast on. A whole clan of hyenas can eat the entire body of their prey including the skeleton, bones, teeth, and horns, savoring until the very last bite.

Hyenas have been stereotyped to be lazy wild animals because they often feed on the carrion of animals left over by lions and other predators, but the truth is these mammals eat a wide variety of animals by hunting them down themselves. 

A Complete List of Food Hyenas Like to Eat

Hyenas are voracious feeders and they can hunt a wide and diverse array of animals, ranging from small mammals and insects to huge mammals bigger than their size. Below is a complete list of animals hyenas often include in their diet.

Medium to large-sized animals:

Smaller animals:

Apart from fresh animal meat that hyenas love to feed on and hunt, they also like scavenging carrion meat left by larger predators such as lions. 

When there is an extreme scarcity of food, hyenas can dig up junk from garbage, or even steal and eat crops, fruits, vegetables, and even grass and grasshoppers which are outside their typical diet.

Do Hyenas Eat Lions?

Hyena laughing
Hyenas attack and eat unprotected lion cubs.

Hyenas rarely eat lions, as these beautiful beasts are much bigger and heavier than them. However, when hyenas find a lion that is weak and isolated from its pride, they may have the courage to kill it and prey on it, especially when food is scarce. Hyenas usually hunt in groups, so when they come across unprotected lion cubs or small lions, they may attack and eat them.

What Do Different Species of Hyenas Eat?

Different species of hyenas have different preferences when it comes to their diet. The spotted hyenas, for instance, love to hunt small to average-sized animals for their food and are always on the lookout for easier ways to take down their prey.

Striped and brown hyenas, on the other hand, prefer eating the carcasses of other animals’ kills, sucking out decaying bones and bone marrow from the carrion. Since they have powerful teeth and jaws, their food of choice are tortoises and wild boars. The aardwolf is an insectivore and it loves to eat a diet that is exclusively insects such as termites, as it has a specially-designed flat, sticky tongue that helps trap them. Aardwolves are estimated to eat around 30,000 termites in just one night.

Spotted hyenas are the most common species and a common large carnivore in Africa. They often look for shortcuts when hunting down their prey, so they prefer calves, cubs, or young mammals as they won’t be too much hard work for them. They are estimated to eat more than 30 pounds of meat in a meal.

How Do Hyenas Hunt for Food?

Brown hyena (hyaena brunnea) carrying a dead seal pup after it killed it, at a Namibian seal colony on the Skeleton Coast in Namibia.
Hyenas typically hunt in packs and their clans can grow up to 100 hyenas large.

Hyenas typically hunt in packs, which makes them powerful predators. They live in clans that usually consist of 50 to 100 hyenas, led by an alpha female. Hyenas possess a sharp sense of smell that can track prey, and as they hunt in large groups, they can often outrun other predators when chasing victims.

Weakened or isolated members of other animals’ herd are also hunted down by hyenas. They often use this strategy to easily kill their prey without the need to fight the herd. Hyenas also eat in social packs. They will bite their prey and drag them down, and then all clan members will enclose the victim and feast on it.

Do Hyenas Eat Domestic Animals?

Spotted hyenas who frequent residential neighborhoods in semi-urban and rural areas can also drag domestic animals such as cats and dogs to eat them. The increasing population in Africa brings hyenas into close proximity to human residential settlements, thereby increasing the chances of hyenas preying upon domestic animals and other pets.

What Do Hyena Cubs Eat?

Like most mammals, hyena cubs are nursed by their mothers for up to a year. Born blind and with closed ear canals, hyena cubs will only consume their mother’s milk during the first six months, and will start hunting smaller prey afterwards. 

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