Spotted Hyena Facts, Pictures & Video. In-Depth Information on a Fearsome African Predator.

Spotted hyena facts, pictures and information. Although this African mammal is often thought of as being a scavenger, in actual fact it catches most of its own food. On this page you’ll find out more amazing facts about this fearsome predator.

Spotted Hyena Facts At A Glance

  • Other Name(s): Laughing hyena
  • Scientific name: Crocuta crocuta
  • Type of Animal: Mammal
  • Animal Family: Hyaenidae
  • Where Found: Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Length: 95-150 cm (37 to 60 in.) from head to tail, with a 30 – 36 cm (12 – 14 in.) long tail. Females are larger than males.
  • Height (at the shoulder): 75 – 85 cm (30 – 33.5 in.)
  • Weight: 45 – 60 kg (100 – 132 lb.) for males, 55 – 70 kg (121 – 154 lb.)  or more for females
  • Conservation Status: Least concern
  • Other interesting facts:
    • The spotted hyena has one of the most powerful bites in the animal kingdom
    • A group of spotted hyenas is called a clan, and is led by females

Meet the Spotted Hyena: Introduction

spotted hyena in grass
Spotted hyena

The spotted hyena is the largest member of the Hyaenidae family. The other members of the family are the striped hyena, the brown hyena and the aardwolf. Although a hyena looks like a dog, it is more closely related to a cat.

Like all hyenas, the spotted hyena’s front legs are longer than its back legs, giving its body a distinctive downwards slant. The spotted hyena is similar in size to a wolf, but more powerfully built, and heavier.

Unlike many other mammals, female spotted hyenas are larger than males. They can reach up to 150 cm (60 in) in length, 85 cm (34 in) in height, and weigh 70 kg (154 lb.) or more.

The spotted hyena’s fur is yellow-gray or gray-brown. It has black spots which are intense in young individuals and fade with age.

The spotted hyena has a blunt snout and rounded ears. It has a large, wide skull with strong jaws. The spotted hyena’s teeth, jaws and skull are specially adapted for strength, allowing the hyena to crush the bones of its prey.

The species is known for its exceptionally powerful bite force, which exceeds even that of a brown bear!

The spotted hyena can live up to 25 years in the wild. In captivity its average lifespan is 40 years.

Why Is It Called Laughing Hyena?

spotted hyena face
The spotted hyena is also known as the laughing hyena.

The spotted hyena makes many different types of sounds to communicate with other hyenas. These vocalizations include grunts, whoops and squeals.

One of the noises it makes sounds somewhat like giggling, which is why the spotted hyena is also known as the laughing hyena. The hyena tends to make this giggling sound when either excited or threatened.

Spotted Hyena Video

If the spotted hyena had spotted the lion just a second later it would have been toast!

Where Does the Spotted Hyena Live?

The spotted hyena lives in Sub-Saharan Africa (i.e. the area south of the Sahara Desert). In the distant past, the species was also present in Western Europe and Russia. It is not known why it became extinct in these areas.

The present-day distribution of the spotted hyena spans many central and south African countries, but it is not continuous. The largest populations are found in the Serengeti system in the countries of Tanzania and Kenya, and in Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Spotted Hyena Facts: Habitat

The spotted hyena lives in many different habitats, including semi-deserts, savanna, open woodland, dense dry woodland, and sometimes even in mountainous regions. However, the species is not common in more extreme desert conditions, tropical rainforests or high mountain elevations.

What Does the Spotted Hyena Eat?

The spotted hyena is a carnivore. It uses its powerful jaws to crush the bones of its prey. It is a very efficient eater and can digest animal parts that other carnivores don’t normally consume, such as skin and bones.

The spotted hyena is often unfairly labelled as a scavenger. In fact, it gets most of its food by hunting.

The spotted hyena hunts either alone or in groups. It is a skilled, intelligent predator, and is equipped with keen senses of smell, vision and hearing. It will pursue its prey over distances of several kilometers, and can reach speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph).

The spotted hyena is not a picky eater, and its diet includes a variety of animals. It regularly consumes large mammals such as zebras and wildebeests, as well as medium-sized prey such as warthogs and Thompson’s gazelles. It also eats smaller animals such as snakes, lizards, birds and insects.

The spotted hyena will scavenge food when the opportunity arises. It can spot carrion from long distances, and will readily consume carcasses left behind by other predators.

Social Structure and Family Life

spotted hyena cubs
Spotted hyena cubs

The spotted hyena is a social animal. It lives in large, complex groups known as clans. The size of the clans varies geographically, but can comprise up to 80 individuals.

A spotted hyena clan features a strong hierarchical organization. It is a matriarchal group, which means that the females are dominant over the males. Rank is inherited and maintained by aggression and dominant behavior.

The social life of the clan revolves around a communal den, in which spotted hyenas sleep, breed, and care for their young. Hyenas don’t spend all of their time with the clan, and are often seen hunting alone or in smaller groups.

Spotted hyena clans are territorial. They patrol and maintain home ranges which vary in size from 40 km² up to 1000 km².

Spotted hyenas mate several times during the year. Gestation (pregnancy) lasts around 110 days, after which females give birth typically to two, but sometimes three, cubs. The mother spotted hyena is the only one who tends to her cubs, and she is very protective of them.

Spotted hyena cubs are born with their eyes open and some of their teeth in place. Their fur is dark brown to start with, but changes to the adult coloration after the first 2-3 months. The cubs drink their mother’s milk for 12-16 months and usually start hunting with the clan at around 12 months.

Female spotted hyena cubs usually stay with the clan after reaching adulthood. Males tend to leave their clan in search of another group when they are around 2 and a half years old.

spotted hyena cub

Spotted Hyena Facts: Conservation Status

The spotted hyena is listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern. Although numbers are not low enough to list the species as threatened, its current population trend is declining.


spotted hyena active wild

The spotted hyena is a top carnivore in its ecosystem, and has no natural predators. However, the lion and the hyena are direct competitors, and aggressive encounters between the two species often occur. As a result, hyenas are sometimes killed by lions.

Spotted hyena numbers are declining in some areas due to habitat loss and declining numbers of prey species. Spotted hyenas are known to kill livestock, and because of this they are also often shot or poisoned by humans.

Spotted Hyena Facts: Conclusion

On this page you’ve found out about one of Africa’s most famous predators. If you want to find out more about African animals, or about animals in general, check out these related pages:

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