Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: hyena from Philip's Encyclopedia

Predatory and scavenging carnivore native to Africa and S Asia. The spotted or laughing hyena (Crocuta crocuta) of the sub-Sahara is the largest. Other species include the brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) of S Africa. Weight: 27-80kg (60-176lb). Family Hyaenidae.


Summary Article: hyena from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(hì-ē'nə), carnivorous, chiefly nocturnal mammal of the Old World family Hyaenidae. Although doglike in appearance, hyenas are more closely related to civets (family Viverridae) and cats (family Felidae) than to dogs (family Canidae). The front legs of a hyena are longer than the hind ones, giving the back a sloping appearance. Despite their reputation as scavengers, hyenas are also skillful hunters; they can crush bones with their strong teeth and jaws. They sleep by day, in caves or burrows. Hyenas range over most of Africa and SW Asia. Three species are generally recognized. The spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta, of Africa S of the Sahara, is the largest and boldest species; it stands 21/2 ft (76 cm) high at the shoulder and has a gray coat with irregular patches. It is also known as the laughing hyena, because of its cry, which resembles maniacal laughter. Often abroad in the day as well as at night, it pursues game in packs and even invades camps and villages in search of food. The females are dominant and more aggressive, outranking the males in the pack. The smaller striped hyena, Hyaena hyaena, of Asia and N Africa and the brown hyena, or strand wolf, H. brunnea, of S Africa are shyer and more nocturnal and solitary in their habits. The former is grayish brown with darker stripes; the latter is dark brown over most of the body. The aardwolf is the fourth member of the hyena family. Hyenas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Hyaenidae.

  • See Kruuk, H., The Spotted Hyena (1972);.
  • Gittleman, J. L., Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution (1989).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article hyena (or hyaena)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae . There are three species: the African spotted hyena ( Crocuta crocuta ); the Asian...

Full text Article Nandi bear
Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

A ferocious man-eating African cryptid that in reality may be a composite beast, ‘created’ by the erroneous piecing together of reports...

Full text Article hyena
The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Any of three species of carnivorous doglike mammals living in Africa and Asia. Hyenas have extremely powerful jaws. They are scavengers, feeding on

See more from Credo