The spotted hyena, or laughing hyena, (Crocuta crocuta) is the largest and best-known member of the hyena family.
The spotted hyena ranges in size from 3.1 to 5 ft (95 to 150 cm) long along the head-and-body and stands from 2.5 to 3 ft (75 to 90 cm) at the shoulder. The normal weight range for the male is 100 to 132 lb (45 to 60 kg). The females normally weigh from 121 to 165 lb (55 to 75 kg). Some exceptionally large females have been in the ballpark of 200 lb (90 kg).
The spotted hyena is primarily a predator, not a scavenger. Individuals have been clocked at over 34 mph (55 km per hour), and when hunting in packs are capable of taking down the largest of prey. Spotted hyenas have such formidable jaws (one of the strongest in the animal kingdom) and teeth that they devour even the bones of their kill. This, combined with their very strong stomach acid, results in them having crusty white droppings (from all the bone meal). The hyena’s distinctive laughing call, used to disorient prey and gather the pack, has resulted in their nickname “laughing hyena”.
Spotted hyenas live in the savannas and deserts of Africa in permanent social groups called clans, averaging 40 individuals. Some are as large as 100. Each clan is permanent social group called a fission-fusion society. Female spotted hyenas are larger than their male counterparts, and socially dominant over them. Males leave their natal group on reaching sexual maturity, while females remain in it.
While spotted hyenas have no real predators, they are on occasion killed.
They each eat the same foods and will often clash with hyenas over kills. Like many social carnivores, spotted hyenas are playful, especially when young. In captivity they can become very tame. Europeans living in Africa have sometimes successfully made pets of them.
Diet and Hunting behaviors
Though often labeled incorrectly as a scavenger, the spotted hyena is actually a powerful hunter. It gets the majority of its nourishment being derived from live prey, scavenging sometimes composing only 5% of its overall diet. The spotted hyena is predominantly a solitary hunter, making 75% of its kills alone. Kills made in this way are the most prevalent but the success rate (26%) is much smaller than the success rate of hunts attempted by small groups consisting of 2 to 4 hyenas (46%). When hunting in small groups, the hyenas approach their prey from downwind (so their scent is not picked up by the prey) in fan formation to promote an uneven dispersal of the target prey. When the prey is dispersed in this way, it is easier for the group to spot lame individuals and to separate the young from older individuals. Their most commonly selected prey are wildebeest and zebra, both of which the hyenas hunt using different techniques. A single hyena can kill a wildebeest, though it is more common for them to be felled by a group of 3 to 4. Zebras, being more defensive than the easily spooked wildebeest often require a group of 10. Other prey includes gazelle, impala, topi, and rhino and elephant calves.
Hyenas kill small prey by crushing the skull with their jaws. Large game is killed in a way similar to that of the African wild dog, which disembowels and devours the victim while it is still alive. Although unpleasant to watch, this method allows hyena to begin consuming food immediately. This often results in a quicker death than suffocation (favored by big cats).