Friday, July 19, 2013

Hyaena - Wild Hyena

Its sinister laugh strikes fear into many animals...

Hyena or hyaena are the animals of the family Hyaenidae of suborder feliforms of the Carnivora. It is the fourth-smallest biological family in the Carnivora (consisting of four species), and one of the smallest in the Mammalia.  Despite their low diversity, these wild hyenas are unique and vital components to most African and some Asian ecosystems.  I stress the word 'wild' because down through the years I have heard several folks refer to certain people as such.  For example, "Dang, boy, have some table manners; you eat like a wild hyaena."  Or another phrase I've heard:  "She was so freakin' excited, that woman entered the room screaming and sounding like some wild hyena." Ha-ha!

The hyaena is one of the strangest and most misunderstood of all African animals.  One popular belief is that hyenas are repulsive cowards and feed on the remains of other animals' kills.  I'll show a video of that, in a moment, albeit on that particular occasion it didn't work out very well for 'em.  At any rate, the hyena does not deserve this reputation, as they also hunt and make their own kills in a very effective fashion.

In the past, there were 3 different types of hyaena, the brown hyena, spotted hyena, and the striped hyena.  All are carnivores, with front claws longer than those on their hind paws.  All 3 of those are endowed with extraordinary strength and the structure of their teeth is unique among mammals.  A hyena is capable of breaking the femur of a horse with one snap of its jaws.

However, now they say there are 4 types of hyenas, with the latest addition being the aardwolf.  The aardwolf is usually classified with the Hyaenidae, though it was formerly placed into the family Protelidae.  Unlike its relatives, the carnivora, the aardwolf does not hunt large animals, or even eat meat on a regular basis; instead it eats insects, mainly termites - one aardwolf can eat about 200,000 termites during a single night by using its long, sticky tongue to capture them.  I can see why, after reading about this 4th addition to the hyaena family, it was not previously considered a hyena.

Anyway, despite their unattractive appearance, wild hyenas are not as horrible as they seem, and in captivity they tame rather easily.  Although they live in groups, each animal establishes its quarters in a separate area.  They occupy the dens of warthogs and the burrows of aardvarks - often chasing away the rightful inhabitants.  Yeah, that really sounds fair, eh?

At nightfall, hyenas become active; their call is a kind of laugh, a sinister cackling which they indulge in prior to beginning to hunt their quarry of zebra or antelope, for example.  Contrary to what is commonly believed, they feed normally on prey which they themselves have killed while hunting and killing in a group.  On occasions they will eat an animal which is already dead, but many zoologists have established the fact that the lion actually does this more often and/or is a greater eater of carrion than the hyaena.
At dawn these night-time phantoms return to their dens to shelter from the heat of the day and await the freshening effect of dusk to stimulate them into pursuit of some new quarry.

Below, is a video showing a not-so-friendly encounter between lions and hyenas:
[Video is no longer available]

Depicted below, is the 4 types of wild hyenas:

Image Credit:

---End of Post "Hyaena - Wild Hyena"

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