Hyenas are one of the most famous carnivores in Africa, with some fascinating traits that have always sparked people’s curiosity.
You can find them roaming in the dry areas of Africa with scrubby grasslands and deserts. But are hyenas dangerous and pose a real threat when they come in close contact with humans?
The simple answer is yes. Hyenas are actually man-eaters, and they will attack you if you enter their territory.
But the fact is, hyenas are one of the most misunderstood species, as they are often overlooked and not fully appreciated. They’re a surprisingly intelligent species with many interesting characteristics that separate them from other African animals.
Hence, we have compiled a list of some fascinating facts about hyenas that will completely change how you think about them.
1. Hyenas are Natural Predators
People often accuse spotted hyenas of being only scavengers, but that’s entirely a false accusation because they are extremely good hunters.
Although it’s true that hyenas often steal food from other animals, they also kill between 66-90 percent of the animals they eat. And when it comes to hunting, they’re incredibly versatile and can often become quite ruthless.
Hyenas are considered “cursorial hunters,” which means they run after their prey until they become too exhausted to keep going. They can even maintain speeds of up to 37 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour) for several miles!
On top of it, they can hunt down prey that is significantly larger than them, such as cape buffalos and even giraffes! Pretty impressive, right?
2. Female Hyenas Are Excellent Mothers
Hyenas indeed are one of the most ruthless and fierce animals in the wild, but surprisingly, they’re great at being parents. When hyenas give birth, they usually have 1 to 3 little cubs that are super tiny and jet-black in color.
Fierce hyena mamas won’t let anyone get anywhere near their precious little ones. It might come as a surprise, but they invest more energy per cub than any other land-dwelling carnivore. They’ll nurse them for as long as sixteen months and will go to great lengths to protect them from potential threats.
Another mesmerizing fact about these creatures is that spotted hyena mothers are excellent at producing nutritious milk. In fact, their milk is more nutritious than any other land carnivore, and they produce a whole lot of it for a really long time.
3. They’re Shockingly Intelligent
Spotted hyenas display remarkable intelligence that can match or even surpass that of many other wild animals. Hyenas are believed to have evolved their intelligence similar to humans. Their complex behaviors have played a key role in driving the development of their brains.
If you ever closely observe spotted hyenas out in the wild, you will realize they’re curious and inquisitive creatures.
In various experiments, hyenas actually did better than chimpanzees when it came to solving complex and unique problems.
4. Hyenas Don’t Actually “Laugh”
Most of us are well familiar with the famous “hyena laugh” because they sound exactly like a human laughing. In fact, only spotted hyenas can make this particular laughing sound, and that’s why they’re also known as the “laughing hyena”.
Spotted hyenas have a unique vocal repertoire that allows them to make this type of sound. But in truth, the so-called “laughter” of hyenas doesn’t actually mean they find something funny, or they’re happy for some reason.
Actually, this sound is an indication that a hyena is feeling insecure or nervous. It can also mean that they’re acknowledging the dominance of a more powerful hyena.
So, if you hear a hyena “laughing,” don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a sign of humor!
5. “Hyena vs Lion” Is Real
Since lions and hyenas are both after the same kind of food, they often compete with each other. When fighting a lion, it usually doesn’t end well for the hyena as they end up getting hurt or even killed.
While hyenas are often portrayed as solitary scavengers, they can actually call for backup when they feel threatened. Furthermore, when hyenas hunt in packs, they can even devour large prey such as a lion!
6. Their Jaws Are Very Powerful
Although their jaws resemble dogs, spotted hyenas have some serious biting power. Hyena’s jaws have developed these huge masseter muscles that allow them to apply tremendous force to a small area of their teeth.
As a result, they can’t only deliver a deadly bite but also crush bones like nobody’s business. After crushing bones, hyenas can fully swallow or digest them, which is very rare among other animals.
Apparently, their digestive systems are so efficient that they can extract all of the organic components from the bones as well.
Researchers have found that hyenas have an incredible bite force of over 1,100 pounds per square inch or about 9,000 newtons. This means they can easily crush bones that are almost two and a half inches in diameter.
7. They Really Eat Humans
Do hyenas eat humans? Yes, they are man-eaters. Since hyenas are incredibly skilled predators, it’s probably not news to you that they’re more than capable of killing humans.
Although hyenas don’t usually hunt humans, they will welcome you with their extremely powerful jaws if you enter their territory.
The good news is that humans are not their main food source; they usually eat other mammals, birds, lizards, snakes, etc. So, if they have plenty of natural food, you don’t have to worry about being on the hyenas’ menu.
8. They Can Count Like Monkeys
We consider monkeys intelligent because of their human-like ability to count and process numerical information. But surprisingly, hyenas can also count, just like monkeys!
Researchers have found that spotted hyenas can figure out the exact number of hyenas in a competing clan. With this information, they even make strategic decisions to outmatch their rivals and gain territory.
Furthermore, male hyenas searching for a new clan will quickly headcount each group before deciding which one to join. After counting, they tend to pick the clan with the lowest number of male competitors.
9. They Sleep in Water
Spotted hyenas live in sub-Saharan Africa, which happens to be one of the hottest regions on the planet. They use water pools and bushes to nap and keep themselves hydrated to survive in that hostile climate. Hyenas can hunt in the nighttime if they want, but they prefer to rest in the evening.
10. Hyena Cubs Face Fierce Competition
When born, hyena cubs don’t exactly have an easy time because they have to face various difficult situations for survival.
Normally, hyena moms have about two cubs at a time, but there are some rare instances where they’ll have up to four. But mother hyenas only have two nipples, so cubs have to fight with one another to literally survive.
As a result of this aggressive behavior, about 25% of hyenas die within the first month of their birth. It goes to show that even within their own species, hyenas can be tough cookies.
11. Hyenas Have a Long Lifespan
Another interesting fact about hyenas is that they have an impressive lifespan compared to other carnivorous animals in Africa. While most dogs and other carnivorous animals have a lifespan of 6 to 10 years, hyenas can actually make it to their twenties. That’s quite impressive for a land-dwelling carnivore; their skulls take the longest to fully mature.
According to history, the oldest living hyena that was ever recorded was actually kept captive by humans. Incredibly, this hyena managed to live for an impressive 41 years and 1 month, which is the longest known lifespan for any hyena.
12. Hyenas Aren’t Related to Dogs
Have you ever noticed how hyenas kind of look like big dogs with their strong bodies and square-shaped heads? But here’s the intriguing thing: despite the resemblance, hyenas actually aren’t related to dogs at all.
Regarding their nature and physical traits, they have some strong resemblances with mongooses, civets, and cats. Since they’re mammals, they belong to their special family, the “Hyaenidae.”
13. Hyenas Often Receive Undeserved Hatred
Hyenas and humans have a long history of interaction that dates back to prehistoric times, but unfortunately, they’re being represented negatively.
For instance, hyenas are often linked to cynical traits like selfishness, cowardliness, sneakiness, wickedness, and even sorcery. But in reality, hyenas are amazing creatures and don’t deserve to be associated with these negative qualities.
Hyenas are mesmerizing animals that adorn the animal kingdom in wild Africa. Are hyenas dangerous? Yes, they are man-eaters, but they’re also full of various special traits that set them apart from other carnivores. Their extremely smart attitude, great parenting, cunning mentality, and other unique qualities make hyenas remarkable in the wild.