Spotted Hyena
Crocuta crocuta

Cats? Dogs? Other?

Hyenas belong to their own family group, the Hyaenidae. Genetically closer to cats than dogs, their nearest relatives are animals like fossas and meerkats. In addition to spotted hyenas, there are striped hyenas and brown hyenas, and a fourth species known as the aardwolf. Spotted hyenas, the largest of the four species, are known for their spotted coats, powerful jaws and laughter-like vocalizations. Hyenas were once found in much of the world, including a species that lived in Arizona.


She’s the Boss

Spotted hyenas are highly intelligent and maintain complex social systems. The physically larger and more aggressive females are dominant, and their hierarchy places males below females and their offspring. Among other benefits, this means first dibs at food after a kill is made. Females also possess a pseudopenis through which they urinate, mate and give birth. This organ looks much like male sex organ, making identification tricky. Spotted hyena mothers produce milk that is higher in protein and fat than most other land predators. Cubs are completely dependent on milk for at least half a year and will nurse for up to 18 months or more.  


Community Service

Spotted hyenas benefit their ecosystems in several ways. As top predators, they help keep herds of species like zebras and impalas healthy, as they prey mostly on the weak and the sick. Like many savanna predators, sometimes they scavenge their meals. In other words, they eat dead stuff. This helps keep their environment free of refuse and disease, as they consume almost the entire animal, and their powerful immune systems seem to be resistant to diseases like anthrax and distemper.

Diet: mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, carrion, invertebrates, eggs, fruits 

Zoo Diet: specialized carnivore meat, whole prey (chicks and rabbits), chicken

Habitat: savannas, grasslands, woodlands 

Weight: 90 – 190 lbs


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The Phoenix Zoo is one of the largest non-profit zoos in the U.S., caring for over 3,000 animals, with nearly 400 species represented, including many threatened/endangered species.