The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) is a member of the order Carnivora inhabiting most of Sub-Saharan Africa. They used to inhabit Europe and Asia, where they had become extinct. Although they resemble dogs, they are actually closer cousins of cats and even closer cousins of mongooses. They get their scientific name from a mythological creature called Crocata.
Spotted hyenas are the largest of the living hyenas. They are characterized by their yellowish or gray coat, covered with distinctive spots which fade out as they age. They have among the most powerful jaws of any mammal. They have a strong neck and a large head with round ears. Their fore legs are longer than their hind legs, giving them an odd gate. Males are smaller than females. Males weigh about 100-120 pounds, and females about 120-140 pounds.
Spotted hyenas inhabit a wide variety of habitats, especially open dry biomes such as savannah. They are not found in dense forests, such as tropical areas. Spotted hyenas are well-known as scavengers, often stealing prey, but they will also hunt in packs. They prey on many species, especially wildebeests and gazelles.
The spotted hyena is a female-dominant species, and males tend to behave submissively before mating with the female. They may mate year around. Mating can be difficult due to the unusual male-like parts of the female. Females usually choose a young male who they have been friendly with in the past. After a gestation period of 110 days, 2 or 3 cubs are born. Birth, like mating, is very difficult due to the female’s unusually narrow birth canal. They may take several weeks to heal. The lactacing female may carry up to 9 pounds of milk, and this milk is the highest protein content of any African carnivore.
The spotted hyena is considered a lower risk species by the IUCN. Although not endangered, there are conservation programs preventing them from becoming threatened.