Commonly, we mistake hyenas for some low-intelligence scavengers with curious laughter. In reality, hyenas couldn’t be farther from such misconceptions. In sharp contrast to these stereotypes, the hyena is a dedicated hunter with high intelligence, easily cementing their place as one of Africa’s most successful predators.
The hyena bite is remarkably impressive – if not frightening – with incredible power. A hyena can kill a prey with a single bite. Boasting a bite force of 1,100 pounds per square inch (PSI), the hyena is a force of nature. This bite can easily tear into its prey, even crushing into the prey’s bone marrows. To put this in perspective, hyenas have a more powerful bite than lions, whose bite force comes lower at 650 psi.
In this guide, we will extensively learn about the enormous power behind the hyena’s underrated bite and how this predaor came to have such a formidable biting force.
How Strong is a Hyena Bite?
Hyenas are avid hunters with a terrifying bite. Indeed, the spotted hyena is particularly a formidable carnivore with a biting force that rips through its prey at 1100 psi. This strong biting force can be attributed to the hyena’s strong skulls and teeth configuration.
The spotted hyena’s ancestry can be traced to the famed bone-crushing dogs like the Borophagus. The latter is a reputed predator that typified the Cenozoic age.
Owing to the enormous power encases in their jaws, spotted hyenas – just like striped hyenas – can kill a dog with just one bite without having to tear through their skin. The spotted hyena, in particular, has a bite force that tends to beat that expected of an animal of its size.
Can Hyenas Bite Through Bone?
Thanks to its piercing teeth and strong jaw, the hyena can easily bite through the marrow of its prey’s bones. Unlike the lazy scavenger hyenas are mistaken for, the hyena’s extremely powerful jaws can readily shatter bone.
It is common to see Hyenas chewing (and consequently digesting) the bones of the animals they feed on.
Do Hyenas Have Bone-crushing Teeth?
Some 14 million years back, the hyena family was divided into two unique groups. These were the bone-crushing hyenas and the dog-like hyenas.
Significant climatic changes – coupled with the introduction of canids into their ecosystem –almost triggered the extinction of the dog-like hyenas, leaving the aardwolf hyena.
However, the bone-crushing hyena survived. The modern hyena eventually replaced these early hyenas.
The modern hyena has unique teeth formation, which has tremendous bone-crushing capacity. Typically, the hyena’s teeth are structured to equip the deeper end of their jaw with carnassials. The front jaw is outfitted with sharpened canines. The canines are robust but notably short.
The hyena maximizes the pulverizing power of the jaw’s backside, where the carnassials find use in crushing its prey’s bones. The carnassials are so strong that they can grind the complete skeleton of a prey as enormous as gnus.
The hyena’s teeth share similarity with those of the Canidae family (a cluster of carnivores that look like dogs spanning coyotes, wolves, foxes, jackals, and your regular domestic dogs). But in the hyena’s specific case, its teeth are more adapted towards feasting on bones or generally coarse food.
Aside from the massive carnassials and the upper molars (which are not very developed), the remaining part of the hyena’s teeth has a broad base with impressive incisive force.
Relating to the tongue and lips, the hyena’s mandibles, compared to the general configuration in canids, are more powerful at the canine teeth.
This explains why while most canids tend to break bones with their post-carnassial molars, hyenas have a penchant for breaking bones with their premolars and anterior dentition.
Why are Hyenas Not Dogs?
While hyenas tend to share a similar stature (and even appearance in some unique cases) with wild dogs, hyenas are different from dogs. To better distinguish between dogs and hyenas, let us explore some distinctive features between both.
Let us start from the ears
You can distinctly tell a hyena from a wild dog by the ear. Hyenas have ears drawing back to its head. These ears are conspicuously smaller than that of a wild dog. The wild dog’s ears stand up more with the shape of a spade.
The hyena’s behavior is markedly different from dogs
Compared to dogs, hyenas have a remarkably different temperament. Hyenas are far more aggressive than dogs. The hyena is a more impulsive attacker than the average dog.
While hyenas have impressive teamwork, they are very prone to infighting among themselves. Compared to dogs, hyenas are much more active at night.
Hyenas are different from dogs in their markings
Due to the wild dog’s patterned coat, it is commonly referred to as the painted wolf. This coat is adorned with random patches that look like paint slashes. These splashes range from black to ochre to white.
The markings are different for the spotted hyena. The latter has smaller freckles on its coat, which are more brownish. These freckles are scattered across the coat.
More than that, the hyena’s spine is decorated with a hairline that looks more like manes. Compared to the remaining fur of the hyena, the hairline is longer.
How Big Does a Hyena Get?
This is where people commonly get it wrong. There is no definitive size for the hyena. Typically, the hyena sizes differ across their various species. These are the spotted, brown, striped, and Aardwolf hyenas.
Among all four modern hyena species, the Aardwolf is the smallest. They can weigh as little as 17.6 lbs, but they rarely grow more than 30.8 lbs.
Regarding their length, the Aardwolf has a minimum length of 33 inches, but it can grow as long as 41 inches. The tail accounts for the bulk of this length, almost 25% of the entire hyena health.
Among the said four species, the brown hyena is the second biggest. This hyena can grow as heavy as 160 lbs. Length-wise, this hyena can grow as long as 63 inches.
This is the biggest among all four hyena species. The least spotted hyenas tend to weigh is 88 lbs. But these hyenas can grow as heavy as 190 lbs.
Regarding the length, this hyena can grow as long as 5.9 feet. Also , this hyena can grow as tall as 2.6 feet measuring from shoulder to paw.
The striped hyena can grow as heavy as 90lbs. Their length ranges from 39-45 inches, with an extra 12-16 inches coming from their tail. Striped hyenas can grow as tall as 30 inches, measuring from shoulder to paw.
Are Female Hyenas Stronger Than Males?
Quite contrary to what is obtainable among the generality of mammals, the female hyena – especially in the case of spotted hyena – leads the pack.
This dominance over male hyenas can be attributed to the female hyena being more muscular than the male hyena. Also, the female hyena is far more aggressive compared to their male counterparts.
The hyena in the wild (in its natural environment) can live up to 25 years. However, those in zoos tend to have an average lifespan of 12 years.
Depending on the species, hyenas tend to have different natural habitats where flourish. Spotted hyenas thrive more in woodlands, mountainous regions, and savannahs.
On the other hand, aardwolves thrive in plains and open (or dry) where there is a healthy termites population for these hyenas to feed on.
Striped hyenas have their natural habitats in scrub woodlands and mountainous regions. For the brown hyena, it prefers savannas, deserts, and semi-deserts. A brown hyena living in urban areas is more likely to scavenge for a living.
How Do Hyenas Work Together?
Agreed, hyenas are very territorial animals, and there is pretty significant fighting among them. Nevertheless, hyenas have an impressive communal work ethic, being remarkable team players.
Clans of hyena partner to hunt. And in the case where the prey is larger, a significant number of these clans combine to hunt the prey. The clans collectively recognize the dominance of the high-ranking females in the pack.
Depending on the prey’s size – especially when hunting a more massive carnivore – over 130 hyenas can work together to prey on the bigger animal. Large packs of hyenas can also come together to defend their combined territory, often stretching above 600 square miles.
Are Hyena Smart？
No doubt, hyenas are often seen as silly scavengers. But this is incorrect.
Hyenas have impressive intelligence levels. One area where such intelligence is displayed is in collaborative hunting.
It takes reasonable intelligence for large groups of hyenas to work together in organized hunting. Sometimes, large numbers of hyenas can come together and harass an adult lion – a much bigger and ferocious predator – to abandon its kill. This requires a level of intelligent collaboration, not easily seen among animals.
According to Holekamp’s research, hyenas display social intelligence, generally comparable to primates. Hyenas have a sizable brain that, over the years, evolved to gain memorization capacities.
This way, hyenas can remember a fellow clan member’s appearance and its corresponding rank in the clan. This political intelligence requires higher cognitive skills, proving that hyenas are smarter than we generally see them.
How Many Types of Hyena are There?
There are four types of hyenas today. These are the Aardwolf, spotted, brown, and striped hyenas.
The aardwolf hyena commonly tagged the maanhaar-jackal. This is because of the striking resemblance between this jackal and the hyena.
The aardwolf hyena doesn’t boast that carnivorous penchant like its cousins, preferring to feast on smaller insects instead of hunting. It is more nocturnal, allowing it to more effectively hunt termites at night. This hyena prefers dedicating the larger part of the day to rest.
The Striped hyena’s hind legs are shorter than its forelimbs. It is native to North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
Its neck is thicker and reasonably long, limiting the flexibility of its head. It is the smallest of the bone-crushing hyena species.
Some 10 million years ago, the spotted hyena broke out of the brown and striped hyena species. The spotted hyena is the strongest hyena with bone-shattering jaws, sitting on a sturdy body. The fur is adorned with spots instead of stripes. As this hyena ages, the fur changes.
This hyena is commonly referred to as the strandwolf. Its uniquely pointed ears, combined with its rough brownish coat and shorter tail, stands this hyena out from the others. While their jaws are strong too, they have a keener appetite for leftover carcasses with a strong scavenging culture.