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Hyenas are animals that are biologically closer to cats than dogs.

Humans tend to make snap judgments about these animals. We think of them as savage gluttons with devilish laughs. But that's an unfair description. In fact, they are quite sociable and intelligent.

Furthermore, they play a vital role in African, Middle Eastern and Asian ecosystems. Hyenas rival lions in predator prowess, and spotted hyenas have a colony structure that will have you yelling, "No!" So let's drop our assumptions and dive into the wild and wondrous world of these animals.

9 Interesting Hyena Facts

Hyena Teeth - Hyena
In some parts of Somalia, hyenas are a delicacy.

© iStock.com/dlrz4114

  • Talking hyenas are a staple of Disney cartoons, including Dumbo , Lady and the Tramp , Noah's Ark, Bedknob and the Broomstick , and of course , The Lion King .
  • In 1999, lions and hyenas went to war in the Gobele wilderness of Ethiopia. The situation became so deadly that the military intervened. In the end, the lions killed 35 hyenas, and the hyenas killed 6 lions.
  • In some parts of Somalia, these animals are a delicacy.
  • The feces of some species are bright white due to the large amount of calcified bones they eat.
  • Females are dominant in spotted hyena clans.
  • Contrary to popular belief, hyenas have more in common with cats than dogs.
  • The 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, had a zoo that included a hyena.
  • The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that hyena body parts were effective in warding off evil and ensuring fertility.
  • Hyenas have one of the strongest bite forces in the animal kingdom. A spotted hyena has a bite force of 1,100 PSI, which is slightly lower than a polar bear's 1,200 PSI. Hyenas have a stronger bite than lions.

You can check out more incredible facts about hyenas here.

scientific name

Hyena looking for prey
Hyena's scientific name is Hyenaidae .

© Marieke Kuijpers/Creative Commons

The scientific name for hyenas is Hyenaidae , which doubles as the taxonomic family of animals and includes four extant species scattered across three genera.

These include:

  • Coyote ( Proteles cristata)
  • Brown Hyena ( Hyaena brunnea)
  • Spotted Hyena ( Crocuta crocuta)
  • Striped hyena ( Hyaena hyaena)

evolution and origin

The earliest hyenas evolved from civet-like ancestors about 15 million years ago. Although hyenas do have a bit of canine ancestry in their genes, they are actually more closely related to felines. In fact, around 50 million years ago, the order Carnivora branched into dogs and cats, from which hyenas evolved.

coyote scientific name

hyena laughing
The coyote's scientific name — meaning "coyote" in Afrikaans and Dutch — is Proteles cristata .


The coyote's scientific name — meaning "coyote" in Afrikaans and Dutch — is Proteles cristata . Proteles is a portmanteau of two ancient Greek words, teleos and protos, roughly translated as "full" and "before or first," respectively. Combined, they mean "completely in front," referring to the coyote's five-toed front feet.

Cristata is derived from the Latin "cristatus", meaning "with a comb", referring to the mane of an animal.

Other names for coyotes include "maanhaar-jackal," "any hyena," "termite-eating hyena," and "civet-hyena." The Nama people use "|gīb" to mark animals.

brown hyena scientific name

Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) drinking water, Kalahari Desert, South Africa
Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) drinking water, Kalahari Desert, South Africa

© EcoPrint/Shutterstock.com

Hyaena brunnea is the scientific name for the brown hyena. Hyaena is derived from the ancient Greek word "hyaina", derived from "hys", meaning pig or swine. Hyenas became hyenas in Roman pens, and hyenas became hyenas when Middle English became the dominant language.

Brunnea comes from the Latin word "brunneus", which means "brown".

Brown hyenas are also known as strandwolves.

spotted hyena scientific name

ugliest animal - spotted hyena
The spotted hyena's scientific name is Crocuta crocuta .

©Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock.com

The spotted hyena's scientific name is Crocuta crocuta . For decades, people thought that "crocuta" came from the Latin word "crocutus," meaning "saffron-colored," but they were wrong. The spotted hyena's taxonomic label comes from the ancient Greek word "κροκόττας", meaning "golden jackal".

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Colloquially, the spotted hyena is also known as the laughing hyena.

striped hyena scientific name

Hyena Hyena is the scientific name for the striped hyena. As we discussed in the brown hyena section, hyena is derived from the ancient word "hyena" related to wild boar. The Greeks linked the two animals because they both had manes.


A group of hyenas feeding
Hyenas are quadrupeds with ragged fur and large ears. Interestingly, they have both feline and canine features.

©Jez Bennett/Shutterstock.com

These animals belong to the carnivorous suborder Feliformia (sometimes called Feloidea), which includes carnivorous mammals with "cat-like" physical and behavioral characteristics. Currently, four of these animals forage across large swaths of Africa, the Middle East and Eurasia.

In general, hyenas are quadrupeds with spotty fur and large ears. Interestingly, they have both feline and canine features, and both sport manes. They also have downward-sloping spines, long front legs, and short rear legs. Learn about the ugliest animals on Earth here.

Coyotes, brown hyenas, and striped hyenas all have lined coats. Spotted hyenas, as their name suggests, have spotted fur. Like dogs, their short claws are non-retractable, but they have more ribs than canines and have tongues that are rough like felines.

Males in the hyena, hyena, and spotted hyena species are generally larger than females. However, in the spotted breed community, the females are larger. They dominate the males and even have external genitalia.

How big is a hyena?

Hyena (Hyenaidae) spotted in the savanna
Hyenas vary in size by species and sex.

Hyenas vary in size by species and sex.

species gender Average height average length Average weight
Coyotes female 16 to 20 inches 22 to 31 inches 15 to 22 lbs
Coyotes male 16 to 20 inches 22 to 31 inches 15 to 22 lbs
Brown female 28 to 31 inches 51 to 63 inches 83 to 89 lbs
Brown male 28 to 31 inches 51 to 63 inches 89 to 96 lbs
spot female 28 to 36 inches 37 to 65 inches 98 to 153 lbs
spot male 28 to 36 inches 37 to 65 inches 89 to 149 lbs
striped female 24 to 31 inches 33 to 51 inches 49 to 121 lbs
striped male 24 to 31 inches 33 to 51 inches 49 to 121 lbs


The most powerful animal - the spotted hyena
The spotted hyena is primarily a hunter, but it also forages.

© Lennjo/Shutterstock.com

Like house cats, these animals are avid groomers and also mark territory, but they use anal glands instead of urinating. They are primarily a nocturnal species, although spotted hyenas occasionally venture out during the day, especially if humans are not wandering around.

Striped breeds usually live alone or in pairs, but some populations can have as many as seven. Spotted hyenas are an exception. They are particularly sociable and live in highly organized communities of up to 80 people. Matriarchy and Monarchy In essence, the female of the species is dominant. Plus, when the Clan Leader dies, her oldest daughter automatically takes over!

They mostly burrow under holes and crevices. Hyenas also dig dens.

These animals vocalize loudly and frequently. However, not all species laugh as is commonly believed. In fact, the spotted hyena is the only extant species known for its grin. Remarkably, they use about a dozen different grunts, laughs, and barks to communicate food and migration effectively with their clan members.


These animals live in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Coyotes roam southern and eastern Africa, while brown hyenas live in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, with some influx into Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The range of the spotted breed is central, western and southern Africa, but very few people live in South Africa. Striped hyenas are found across large swaths of North Africa, the Middle East and India.

Coyotes live in scrubland and heavily grazed dry plains, where termites are an important part of their diet, and are plentiful there. Typically, coyotes stay in the same place for about six weeks and group their dens together.

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Deserts and coastal areas are where you'll find brown varieties, while spotted populations prefer woodlands, savannahs, semi-deserts and hilly forests below 4,000 meters. Hyenas prefer dry woodlands, savannahs, and dense grasslands in mountains. Typically, they nest in rocky outcrops, ravines and crevices.


These animals are primarily scavengers, but they also kill their prey. As carnivores, they eat mostly meat, but have been known to supplement their diet with fruit in times of trouble. They are also members of the "clean plate club," which means they eat every bit of their prey, including bones and hooves. Plus, they're not particularly picky about what type of meat they eat.

The digestive system of these animals is made of steel! So much so that field scientists and anthropologists often report feeding on inanimate objects like tires and tent material.

coyote diet

The main source of nutrition for coyotes is termites of the genus Trinervitermes. Using sound and scent cues, coyotes find creepers and lick them off the ground with their sticky tongues.

In one night, a single coyote can eat over 250,000 insects. Aware of their constant need for food, coyotes never eat a whole colony of termites. Instead, they kept the mounds partially intact and used them as a source of replenishment.

The coyote's diet differs from other hyena species because it does not include any carrion, the meat of animals that have been killed. Instead, coyotes stick to insects and larvae.

brown hyena diet

These animals are not great hunters. Therefore, they rely on carcasses killed by other predators. They also supplement their meals with rodents, insects, eggs, fruit and fungi.

Spotted Hyena Diet

Arguably the most aggressive species of the hyena family, the spotted hyena differs from their cousins in that they primarily hunt prey rather than sticking to carrion. In addition to the mainly carnivorous West African spotted population, this species preys on large, hoofed, plant-eating animals including, but not limited to, wildebeest, giraffe, gazelle, impala, eland, sheep, goat, and cattle .They are also known for catching fish and, in rare cases, people!

These animals have big appetites. One person can eat up to 32 pounds of meat in one sitting!

hyena diet

These animals are scavengers and will eat just about any kind of meat, but they turn their noses up at vulture meat. They also feast heavily on bones and marrow.

Predators and Threats

male lion standing proudly
Lions kill hyenas to reduce competition for food sources.

©2021 Photography/Shutterstock.com

Lions are the main enemies of these animals, although the former usually do not eat the latter. But lions see them as top predators of their kind and will kill them to reduce competition. Likewise, in the Middle East, hyenas compete with wolves for food. But sometimes, the two animals cooperate and travel together.

Leopards also prey on these animals in some areas.

The current wild populations of coyotes and spotted hyenas are stable and not facing extinction, according to conservationists. Striped and brown breeds are not so lucky, as humans increasingly encroach on their natural habitat and kill them at alarming rates using traps, poisons and wire snares.

Farmers often exterminate brown hyenas in retaliation for livestock deaths. But they don't actually kill their prey; they only look for dead animals, which sometimes includes dead livestock.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Hyena Birth - Hyena Pack
Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) on the Khwai River, Botswana, Africa. One of the problems with hyena births is that females don't have the typical vaginal opening.

©iStock.com/Franz Schallmeiner


Spotted, brown and coyote hyenas mate with multiple partners throughout their lives. Hyenas, on the other hand, are monogamous, meaning they mate with the same partner for most of their lives.

Mating is an awkward and tricky process for the spotted breed because both males and females have genitals on the outside of their bodies. In order to successfully mate with a female, a male must position himself just right. This process is often described as a dance, since he has to jump around.

species pregnancy mating season litter size parental responsibility
Coyotes 89 to 92 days Spring or fall depending on location; July in South Africa 2 to 5 pups Both parents raising cubs
Brown 90 days May to August, but occasionally mates in the off-season 1 to 5 bears The male helps provide food to the cubs
spot 110 days Year round, but prefer the rainy season 2 bears no male help
striped 90 to 91 days January and February or October and November depending on location 1 to 6 bears Both parents raising cubs


These babies are called cubs. Coyote, brown and striped hyenas are born with their eyes closed and require adult assistance. However, spotted hyenas are born fully developed with eyes and teeth open!

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These animals usually live around 12 years, but can live up to 25 years. However, brown hyenas generally have a shorter lifespan.

The oldest specimen ever recorded was a male spotted hyena named Mars, who lived at the Honolulu Zoo with his brother Whoops. Both arrived in 1992, and both have had unusually long lives. Mars broke the record with 28.5 years, ouch 26!


According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, coyotes and spotted hyenas are the groups of least concern, meaning they are not currently in danger of extinction. However, brown and striped hyenas are classified as Near Threatened, and scientists are taking conservation measures in response to declining populations.

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Hyena FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are hyenas carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

Hyenas are primarily carnivores, subsisting on meat and bones. However, coyotes persist in eating termites and larvae, and some hyena species will supplement their diet with fruit to tide them over during tough times.

What is a Hyena?

Hyenas are four-legged carnivorous mammals that combine characteristics of dogs and cats. However, biologically, hyenas are more closely related to cats than to canines. Hyenas live in Africa, the Middle East and Asia and play an important role in the ecosystems of these regions.

Are hyenas dogs or cats?

Hyenas are neither dogs nor cats, but they are feline, which means they have cat-like anatomy. While hyenas share the same characteristics as canids, they are by no means considered dogs in scientific terms.

Are hyenas aggressive?

Yes, hyenas can be very aggressive, especially the spotted species. Spotted and spotted hyenas have been known to attack humans. Brown hyenas and coyotes are much less bloodthirsty.

Can a hyena kill a lion?

Yes, hyenas can kill lions! In the 1990s, a massive war between hyenas and lions broke out in Ethiopia for weeks. During the conflict, the hyenas managed to bring down six lions. In the end, the military had to step in and quell the conflict.

What does a hyena look like?

One instinctively thinks that hyenas look unlucky. But the close-up photos show the lovely faces. However, the fur of hyenas is not fluffy and full. As a result, they usually appear scruffy and unkempt.

How much does a hyena weigh?

Depending on the species, hyenas can weigh anywhere from 15 to 155 pounds. Coyotes are the lightest, while spotted hyenas are the heaviest.

To which kingdom do hyenas belong?

Hyenas belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do hyenas belong to?

Hyenas belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category do hyenas belong to?

Hyenas belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do hyenas belong to?

Hyenas belong to the Hyena family.

What order do hyenas belong to?

Hyenas belong to the order Carnivora.

What genus do hyenas belong to?

Hyenas belong to the genus Crocodilians.

What type of mulch do hyenas have?

Hyenas are covered with fur.

What type of habitat do hyenas live in?

Hyenas live on open savannah plains and grasslands.

What is the main prey of hyenas?

Hyenas prey on wildebeest, monkeys and birds.

Who are the hyena's natural enemies?

Predators of hyenas include lions, leopards and crocodiles.

What is the average litter size for hyenas?

The average litter size of a hyena is 3 litters.

What are some interesting facts about hyenas?

There are four different hyenas!

What is the scientific name of the hyena?

The hyena's scientific name is Crocuta Crocuta.

What is the lifespan of a hyena?

Hyenas can live 20 to 25 years.

How fast are hyenas?

Hyenas can travel at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour.

Are Hyenas Good Pets?

Adult hyenas are not good pets because they are aggressive and prone to attacking animals — including humans — who try to control them.

Who would win in a battle between a leopard and a hyena?

A leopard would win a fight with a hyena. The big cat is too skilled and deadly for a hyena to defeat it in a fight. Hyenas are used to fighting with backup in the form of their companions. But, they join the fight alone, putting them at an instant disadvantage.

Meanwhile, leopards live, hunt and fight alone. Also, they hunt large game alone. If the leopard were left to ambush the hyena, the fight would be over in seconds, with the leopard's mouth wrapped around the enemy's neck.

Who would win a jackal vs a hyena fight?

A hyena would win a fight with a jackal because it was bigger, stronger, and had better tools to kill its enemies.

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

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