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Temporal range: 26–0 mya
early Miocene–Recent
All living species in order of size: Spotted hyena, brown hyena, striped hyena and aardwolf
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Hyaenidae
Gray, 1821
Living genera

Hyaenas (sometimes 'Hyena') are mammals. They are the family Hyaenidae, in the order Carnivora. They live in Africa, and in west and south Asia. In the past they had a much wider distribution. Now there are two subfamilies with four species.

With only four species, it is the fourth-smallest family in the Carnivora, and one of the smallest in the class Mammalia.[1] Despite their low diversity, hyenas are unique and vital components to most African and some Asian ecosystems.[2]

Hyaena walk much like bears because their front legs are longer than their back. Hyaenas are known to have one of the world's strongest bites. Its function is to crush bone.


Although hyaenas look much like canids, they are actually in the suborder Feliformia, the same as cats and mongooses.

So, although related to felines and viverrids, in their life style they are similar to canids. Convergent evolution has taken place. Both hyaenas and canids are non-climbing, running hunters which catch prey with their teeth rather than claws. Both eat food quickly and may store it, and their calloused feet with large, blunt, nonretractable nails are adapted for running and making sharp turns. However, the hyaenas' grooming, scent marking, defecating habits, mating, and parental behaviour are similar to the behaviour of other feliforms.[3]


Although long said to be cowardly scavengers, hyaenas, especially spotted hyaenas, kill as much as 95% of the food they eat.[4] They can drive off leopards or lionesses from their kills. Hyenas are primarily nocturnal animals, but may venture from their lairs in the early-morning hours. With the exception of the highly social spotted hyaena, hyenas are generally not gregarious animals, though they may live in family groups and congregate at kills.[1]

Hyaenas are intelligent creatures. They work together well and are cooperative. They have strategic hunting methods and work to steal and protect it from other predators. Hyaenas main targets are zebra and wildebeest. Their main rival is the lion. Whether hyaenas do or do not chase lions off their kills is mostly a matter of numbers.


  • Family Hyaenidae
    • Subfamily Hyaeninae
      • Spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta)
      • Striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena)
      • Brown hyaena, (Hyaena brunnea, formerly Parahyaena brunnea)
    • Subfamily Protelinae
      • Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Rosevear D.R. 1974. The carnivores of West Africa. London: British Museum (Natural History), p341–4. ISBN 0565007238
  2. Mills, Gus & Hofer, Heribert 1998. Hyaenas: status survey and conservation action plan. IUCN/SSC Hyena Specialist Group. ISBN 2-8317-0442-1
  3. Kruuk, Hans 1972. The Spotted Hyena: a study of predation and social behavior. University of California Press, p274.