Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) - Wiki
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[Photo] Spotted Hyena, Crocuta crocuta. Photographer: LA Dawson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dawson
The Spotted Hyena, or Laughing Hyena, (Crocuta crocuta) is the largest and best-known member of the hyena family. The Greek root (krokoutas) of its Latin name is used by Pliny the Elder for an unknown animal (possibly hyenas) in Ethiopia; the term is derived from crocus, commonly used in the ancient world as a yellow dye. Literally, it means "the saffron-colored one".
The spotted hyena ranges in size from 95 to 150 cm (3.1-5 ft) long along the head-and-body and stands from 75 to 90 cm (2.5-3 ft) at the shoulder. The normal weight range for the male, who is usually more lightly built than the female, is 45 to 60 kg (100-132 lb); whereas, the females normally weigh from 55 to 75 kg (121 to 165 lb). Some exceptionally large females have been in the ballpark of 90 kg (200 lb).
The spotted hyena is primarily a predator, not a scavenger. Individuals have been clocked at over 55 kilometers per hour (34 mph), and when hunting in packs are capable of taking down the largest of prey. Spotted Hyenas have such formidable jaws (one of the strongest in the animal kingdom) and teeth that they devour even the bones of their kill. This, combined with their very strong stomach acid, results in them having crusty white droppings (from all the bone meal). The hyena's distinctive laughing call, used to disorient prey and gather the pack, has resulted in their nickname "laughing hyena".
Spotted Hyenas live in the savannas and deserts of Africa in permanent social groups called clans, averaging 40 individuals - with some as large as 100. Each clan is permanent social group called a fission-fusion society. Female Spotted Hyenas are larger than their male counterparts, and socially dominant over them. Males leave their natal group on reaching sexual maturity, while females remain in it; the society is highly structured, with dominance relationship between the matrilines (the groups of females descended from a single mother) that endure for generations.
While Spotted Hyenas have no real predators (besides people), they are on occasion killed by lions, which eat the same foods and will often clash with hyenas over kills. The explanation for this competition is that lions and spotted hyenas are of the same guild. With the development of television cameras that can "see" in the dark, male lions have now been imaged breaking the backs of hyenas. Although lions are much larger, hyenas will defend their kills if possible, and hyena packs have been known to kill lions if they outnumber them significantly.
Like many social carnivores, spotted hyenas are playful, especially when young. In captivity they can become very tame, and Europeans living in Africa have sometimes successfully made pets of them.
Diet and Hunting behaviours
Though often labeled incorrectly as a scavenger, the spotted hyena is actually a powerful hunter, the majority of its nourishment being derived from live prey, scavenging sometimes composing only 5% of its overall diet. The spotted hyena is predominantly a solitary hunter, making 75% of its kills alone. Kills made in this way are the most prevalent but the success rate (26%) is much smaller than the success rate of hunts attempted by small groups consisting of 2-4 hyenas (46%). When hunting in small groups, the hyenas approach their prey from downwind (so their scent is not picked up by the prey) in fan formation to promote an uneven dispersal of the target prey. When the prey are dispersed in this way, it is easier for the group to spot lame individuals and to separate the young from older individuals. Their most commonly selected prey are wildebeest and zebra, both of which the hyenas hunt using different techniques. A wildebeast can be overcome by a single hyena, though it is more common for them to be felled by a group of 3-4. Zebras, being more defensive than the easily spooked wildebeest often require a group of 10. Other prey includes gazelle, impala, topi, eland,cape buffalo and rhino and elephant calves.
Hyenas kill small prey by crushing the skull with their jaws, whereas large game is killed in a way similar to that of the african wild dog which dissembowels and devours the victim whilst its still alive. Although unpleasant to watch, this method allows hyena to begin consuming food immediately, and often results in a quicker death than suffocation (favored by big cats).
The female Spotted Hyena's urogenital system is unique among mammals: there is no vagina, and the clitoris is as large and as erectile as the male's penis - only the shape of the glans makes it possible to visually tell the sexes apart. The female urinates, mates and gives birth through this pseudo-penis (it contracts for mating, the opening widening to admit the male's penis). It was thought that the development of this structure depended on a masculinisation process triggered by the action of androgens on the female fetus, but experiments with anti-androgens show that it still forms in the effective absence of the hormone, so it is now ascribed to normal morphogenesis and sexual mimicry. Since it is impossible to penetrate without the female's cooperation, female hyena have full control over who they choose to mate with.
Birth is very difficult: the internal birth canal extends almost to the subcaudal location of the vulva (which in Crocuta is fused to form a scrotum containing fatty pseudo-testes) before turning abruptly towards the clitoris, and the clitoris itself is narrow (although it ruptures with the first parturition, making subsequent births easier). In captivity, many cubs of primiparous mothers are stillborn because of the long labour times involved; in the wild, survival rates of females seem to fall sharply around the age of first giving birth, suggesting that the process is hazardous for the mother also. This suggests that at some point there must have been powerful selective pressures driving the evolution of masculinisation.
Masculinised female genitalia also appears in some lemurs, spider monkeys, and the binturong but the fused vulva is unique to the hyena.
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