Hyenas are amazing animals, and you will find many interesting facts about the hyena animal. They are kind of creepy looking, but the pups are so ugly they are cute. You may have questions about hyena facts for a kids project or just out of curiousity. Continue reading to learn about hyena habitat, hyena sounds, and hyena births. And find out if hyenas really laugh!
Photo: Hyena Family
What is a Hyena?
Hyenas are any of several large carrion-feeding mammals that are native to southern Asia and Africa. A mammal of the order Carnivora, hyenas are dog-like in appearance, but related also to the civets and cats. The hyena has a large head and exceptionally strong jaws and teeth. They are remarkable for their strong jaws and teeth adapted for crushing big bones. Many hyenas are spotted like the one shown in this photo.
What Does a Hyena Look Like?
Hyenas’ front legs appear to be longer than their hind legs, giving the hyena a peculiar slope-backed appearance. Some hyenas have a short bristly mane, and a relatively short tail, which is sometimes bushy. Their natural gait is the pace, in which both legs on the same side of the body move forward at the same time. They can reach speeds of as much as 35 miles an hour.
Although large and powerful, hyenas are cowardly creatures and rarely fight. When threatened by another animal, they usually run away. Hyenas feed mainly on carrion, including exhumed bodies from graves. Hyenas will also eat any small animals they come across. They are almost exclusively nocturnal.
The Hyena Habitat
There are three known species: the Striped Hyena, found in India, South West Asia, and Northern Africa, distinguished by its shaggy coat and striped pattern; the Brown Hyena or Strand Wolf, closely related to the last, but having no stripes on the body, inhabiting coastal South Africa; and the Spotted Hyena, the largest of the three, which has a short coat, and inhabits Central and South Africa. From its peculiar cry when excited this species is sometimes called the laughing hyena.
The largest species is the spotted hyena, which lives in Africa south of the Sahara. It grows to a length of 6 feet, including its tail, and it weighs as much as 175 pounds. Its sparse grayish coat is irregularly marked with dark-brown or black patches. Because of its eerie cry, which sounds like hysterical human laughter, the spotted hyena is also called the laughing hyena.
The brown hyena, also called the strand wolf or strandjut, is native to southern Africa. It is somewhat smaller than the spotted hyena, and it has dark-gray hair marked with stripes on the legs.
The smallest species is the striped hyena, which rarely grows to a length of more than 3 feet and usually weighs less than 75 pounds. Its yellowish-gray coat is marked with blackish stripes along the flanks and legs. The striped hyena is found throughout India, the Near East, and northern Africa.
Where Do Hyenas Live and What Do They Eat?
During the day, hyenas usually sleep in underground dens or in caves. They emerge at night to prowl for food, which is often the remains of a lion’s kill. Hyenas eat all parts of a carcass, and their jaws and teeth are powerful enough to crack even the large bones of a zebra or a large antelope. Hyenas sometimes attack such small farm animals as goats, and they have been reported to rob corpses from graves. The spotted hyena often follows herds of game and attacks animals that are old, very young, or diseased.
Do Hyenas Laugh?
Yes, hyenas laugh! Watch this video to hear the sounds that hyenas make and find out why they laugh.
The most well known hyenas are probably Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed from Disney’s The Lion King. After the movie was released, hyenas gained popularity, and stuffed animals, books, and hyena toys and costumes were sold. Children and adults alike became curious about the mysterious creature from Africa and Southern Asia.
I hope you’ve learned a lot about one of Africa’s most mysterious mammals.