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Our planet has four different species of hyena: the spotted, brown, and striped hyena, and the aardwolf. The spotted hyena is the largest and most common. These are complex, intelligent, and highly social animals that unfortunately come with a bad reputation.
See the fact file below for more information on the hyenas or alternatively, you can download our 21-page Hyena worksheet pack to utilize within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Hyaenidae
- Genera & species:
- Crocuta crocuta (spotted hyena)
- Hyaena brunnea (brown hyena)
- Hyaena hyaena (striped hyena)
- Proteles cristata (aardwolf)
- Hyenas are unique.
- They are feliform carnivoran mammals of the family Hyaenidae.
- The feliform carnivore family consists of cat-like carnivorans, which include mongoose, cats, and viverrids as well as the hyena.
- Hyenas originated over 22 million years ago and resembled the civet cat we know today.
- Over millions of years, hyenas evolved with more pointed jaws and longer legs.
- They diversified into two groups, namely the bone-crushing hyena and the dog-like hyena.
- The dog-like hyena thrived for millions of years but mostly became extinct due to climate change.
- The aardwolf is the only dog-like hyena to survive, possible because it is insectivorous.
- The bone-crushing hyenas became the top scavengers in Africa and Eurasia.
- Hyenas adapted to most habitats and are found in mountains, grasslands, woodlands, and sub-deserts.
- Hyenas share tendencies with both felines and canines. They hunt by running down their prey and grabbing it with their mouths, like canines. However, they groom themselves often and scent-mark their territory like felines.
- Hyenas are considered vital to the African ecosystem.
- Hyenas have a wolf-like build and relatively short torsos.
- Their skulls are large and heavy, with short facial portions, while their necks are short and thick.
- Hyenas jaws are extremely powerful for cracking and crushing bones.
- Their back slopes downwards, making their hind quarters noticeably lower.
- All four of the hyena’s paws have four digits and bulging paw pads.
- Their calloused feet, with large, blunt, non-retractable claws, are adapted for running and making sharp turns when chasing prey.
- They catch their prey with their teeth, not their claws.
- Most species have a rich mane of long hair.
- With the exception of the spotted hyena, hyenas have striped coats.
- Males in most species of hyenas are larger than females.
- The exception is the spotted hyena, where the female of the species outweighs and dominates the male.
- Hyenas have glands that produce a white, creamy-textured secretion that they deposit onto grass stalks to mark territory or spray at predators when attacked.
- The odor of the secretion is easily detected by humans meters from its source.
- Hyenas are commonly viewed with contempt and as frightening.
There are four members of the Hyaenidae family:
The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena)
- This hyena is the smallest of the four species.
- The striped hyena is primarily nocturnal, usually only leaving its den after dark and returning before sunrise.
- Striped hyenas also typically live alone or in pairs.
- Their coat is coarse and bristly, though this varies according to season.
- The striped hyena’s winter coat is a dense, soft, brownish grey with a profuse mane of tough, long hairs along the back to the tail.
- The summer coat is shorter and coarser, lacking the winter underfur, but the mane remains distinct.
- The hairs of the mane are lightish grey or white at the base and black or dark brown at the tips.
- The ears are almost black.
- Present on the front of the striped hyena’s neck is a large black spot, separated from the chin by a light zone.
- The forelegs of the striped hyena are covered with small dark spots and cross stripes.
- The flanks have four, not very clear, dark vertical stripes and also rows of spots.
- The tip of this species’ tail is black with white underfur.
- The striped hyena features prominently in Middle Eastern and Asian folklore.
- This hyena is also the national animal of Lebanon.
The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
- The spotted hyena is also known as the laughing hyena because the loud, high-pitched noise they make sounds like hysterical human laughter.
- Spotted hyenas are found in all habitats.
- The spotted hyena is the second largest carnivore in Africa, after the African lion.
- They are predators, not scavengers, and seem to plan their hunting in advance.
- They are renowned for their strong bite.
- Fur color varies and changes with age.
- The base color is usually a pale greyish-brown or yellowish-grey.
- The fur is also shorter than other species, does not have a well-defined main, and consists of an irregular pattern of spots rather than stripes.
- The spots vary in size from deep brown, reddish tones, or almost blackish.
- There is a broad band across the back of the neck.
- The upper part of the face is brownish, with a white band above both eyes.
- The lips and the back portion of the chin are all blackish, and the limbs are spotted.
The brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea)
- The brown hyena is also called strandwolf.
- This species of hyena is found in Namibia, Botswana, western and southern Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, and South Africa.
- It inhabits desert areas, semi-desert, and woodland savannahs.
- It is currently the rarest species of hyena.
- Brown hyenas are distinguished from other species by their pointed ears, short tail, and long shaggy dark brown coat.
- Adults have a cream-colored fur ruff around their necks.
- Their legs are striped brown and white,
- There are no sizable differences between males and females.
- The skulls of brown hyenas are slightly larger than other species.
- Brown hyenas live in clans of extended families of four to six individuals.
- Brown hyenas are poor hunters and primarily scavengers. The bulk of their diet is carcasses killed by other predators.
- They are known to supplement their diet with rodents, eggs, and fruit.
- Brown hyena body parts are used for traditional medicines and rituals by some cultures.
The aardwolf (Proteles cristata)
- The aardwolf is an insectivorous hyena native to East and Southern Africa.
- Its name means “earth wolf” in Dutch and Afrikaans.
- The aardwolf is the smallest member of the hyena family.
- It eats insects, termites, and larvae.
- An aardwolf can consume over 200,000 termites during a single night.
- It uses its long, sticky tongue to get its prey.
- It is nocturnal, resting during the day and seeking food at night.
- The aardwolf resembles a thin striped hyena with a slender muzzle.
- It has black vertical stripes on a yellowish fur coat.
- It also has a long mane down its neck and back.
- It has one or two diagonal stripes down the front and hindquarters and several stripes on its legs.
- Its tail is bushy with a black tip.
- Unlike the other species, the aardwolf’s front feet each have five toes.
- The teeth and skull are smaller than those of other hyenas.
- Its teeth are mainly for fighting and defense, and its cheek teeth are specialized for eating insects.
- Its ears are large and similar to those of the striped hyena.
- Hyenas are carnivores except for the Aardwolves, which are insectivores.
- Hyenas have long been known as scavengers, but they are skilled hunters, and clans will organize to take down prey as large as zebra.
- The size of their hunt and meal is determined by how large the hyena clan is. Clans work together to take down prey, so the bigger the animal, the more members the clan needs to have for a successful kill.
- Because their jaws are so strong, hyenas have the ability to eat bones, teeth, and hooves.
- Generally, hyenas feed at night, devouring food quickly and sometimes storing food for later.
Reproduction and Offspring
- Mating happens outside of the clan. Non-related males and females will mate after a courtship that can last several days.
- The gestation period is around three months.
- Hyenas bear litters of two to four cubs, and pups are born with their eyes open.
- Cubs begin to eat meat at about five months old, but they are suckled for as long as 12 to 18 months.
- At about one year, cubs begin to follow their mothers on their hunting and scavenging forays. Until then, they are left behind in the den with a babysitting adult.
- At two years, male hyenas leave the group while females stay with the clan their whole lives.
Did You Know?
- Spotted hyenas sleep in water, when possible, to stay cool
- In the African country of Somalia, hyenas are used for food and medicinal purposes.
- Hyenas feature in the folklore and mythology of human cultures that live alongside them.
- In some cultures, hyenas are associated with witchcraft, and their body parts are used in traditional African medicine.
- In other cultures, hyenas are thought to influence people’s spirits and steal children and livestock.
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about hyenas across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Hyena worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the four different species of hyena: the spotted, brown, and striped hyena and the aardwolf. The spotted hyena is the largest and most common. These are complex, intelligent, and highly social animals that unfortunately come with a bad reputation.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Hyena Facts
- Truth or Bluff
- Doodle Art
- Hyena 4
- A Predator’s Anatomy of Survival
- Prehistoric Hyena
- Word Creator
- Word Find
- Weave Maze
- I Call Hyena
- A Short Story
Frequently Asked Questions
What animal prey on hyenas?
Lions are the main predators of hyenas, but they are also the prey of crocodiles and leopards.
Which is the largest group of hyenas?
Spotted hyenas are the largest group of hyenas, followed by the brown and striped hyenas.
What do hyenas eat?
Hyenas eat almost anything. As scavengers, they will eat any meat left behind by another animal.
Do all hyenas laugh?
Only the spotted hyena sounds like a high-pitched human laugh or cackle when excited.
Do humans eat hyena meat?
Yes, humans eat hyena meat. Not only is it considered a delicacy in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, but wild animal meat, in general, has become popular in many countries.
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Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.