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Crocuta crocuta (Spotted hyaena)

gevlekte hiŽna [Afrikaans]; Flecken Hyšne, TŁpfelhyšne [German]; hyŤne tachetťe [French]; nyangao, fisi [Swahili]; impisi, ipisi enamabala [isiNdebele]; isandawane, impisi, ingcuka-cheya [isiXhosa]; impisi [isiZulu]; phiri [Sepedi]; phiri, phiri-thamaga, leholo, masonokwane [Setswana]; phiri, sentawana, leliritshwana [Sesotho]; bere [Shona] impisi, imphisi [siSwati]; mhisi, xitsindziri [Xitsonga]; phele [Tshivenda]; sitongwani [Lozi]; umpuru [Yei]; Gara ╪hiras [Nama] [Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora > Family: Hyaenidae (hyenas) > Subfamily: Hyaeninae

Crocuta crocuta (Spotted hyaena)

Spotted hyaena, Kgalagadi Transfontier Park, South Africa. [photo Bernard Dupont  ©]

Crocuta crocuta (Spotted hyaena) Crocuta crocuta (Spotted hyaena)

Spotted hyaena, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. [photo Gerhard Theron ©]

Spotted hyaena, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Arno Meintjes ©]


Spotted hyaenas have an unmistakable body shape, with heavily build forequarters that stand significantly higher than the lighter hindquarters. The head is large with rounded ears and a black muzzle. It has a light brown to yellowish coat with dark brown spots or blotches distributed over the body, only the head, tail and chest are not spotted. A short erect mane is present on the neck and shoulders. Always regarded as a cowardly scavenger, spotted hyaena are now known to be efficient hunters. The powerful jaw structure and large teeth ensure that the whole prey animal is eaten including crushing the large bones to extract the marrow. Hyena droppings are characteristically white because of the very high bone content.


Total Body Length: 120-180 cm; Height at Shoulder 85 cm; weight range 60 - 80 kg.

Dental Formula

 I C P M = 34

General behaviour

Hyaenas belong to one of the few mammals where females are larger than males. The females are dominant to males in the “clan”, and each clan is lead by a dominant matriarch. The size of the clan is determined by the abundance of prey, i.e. the more prey available the larger the group. Spotted hyaena will defend their territories against other clans and mark using “dropping latrines”, urine and anal gland secretions. They are mainly nocturnal but are seen during the day. Vocalizations are characteristic and easily recognized, including laugh-like whoops, howls and giggles as well as a variety of whines and groans.

Another peculiarity of this species is that the clitoris of the females is male-like. It is enlarged, erectile and has a foreskin. There is further organ mimicry by paired swelling of fibrous tissue that resembles male testicles. The reasons for this rather bizarre mimicry is not fully understood but is related to use of genital displays as social appeasement gestures.


Hunts and scavenges, diet ranges from insects to large game such as zebra, wildebeest and giraffe.

Crocuta crocuta (Spotted hyaena)

Spotted hyaena with a kill at sunrise, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. [photo WildFocus Images ©]

Crocuta crocuta (Spotted hyaena)

Spotted Hyaenas (Hyaena hyaena) keep a watchful eye for both lions and other hyaenas at a fresh wildebeest kill. Vultures also watch and wait their turns. [photo Robert Barnett Naso, Robert Barnett Photography ©]

Distribution and habitat

Not found in the northern and eastern areas of the southern African subregion. It generally prefers open savanna and woodland.


A litter of 1 -4 cubs is born in a burrow after a gestation period of 110 days. Usually only the matriarch will breed but if food is abundant then occasionally a sub-ordinate female will breed as well. The clan helps to raise the cubs and a guard will be left with the cubs when the clan goes hunting. Meat is brought back for the cubs once they are old enough and regurgitate by the adults.

Crocuta crocuta (Spotted hyaena)

Spotted hyaena cubs with their mother, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ©]


The spotted hyaena’s natural enemy is the lion who will try to kill them if they cross paths. The spotted hyaena is likely to come into conflict with local people by killing livestock so its conservation status is classified as conservation dependant. Currently it is common in many of the larger national parks and protected area in southern Africa.