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What Do Hyenas Eat?

 
By Nick A. Romero, Biologist and environmental educator. June 1, 2022
What Do Hyenas Eat?

Although phylogenetically more closely related to cats and viverrids, hyenas resemble canids in some aspects of behavior and morphology, for example, in the way they hunt and feed. With only four extant species (each in its own genus), it is one of the smallest biological families within the class of mammals. Despite their low diversity, hyenas are unique and important components of most African ecosystems.

The following AnimalWised explains what hyenas eat and some of their key characteristics.

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Type of diet of hyenas

As mentioned earlier, there are only 4 species among hyenas that have their own genius. These are:

  • Spotted hyena
  • Brown hyena
  • Striped hyena
  • Aardwolf

The feeding habits of hyenas vary by species. Aardwolves, for example, are insectivores. They eat insects and their larvae, mainly termites. They consume termites by licking them off surfaces with a flat, sticky tongue. The aardwolf's tongue has evolved to be tough enough to withstand the strong bite of termites. An aardwolf can lap up to 250,000 termites per night.

The other hyena species are carnivores, meaning they eat only meat. These hyenas have strong and massive jaws with large premolars and molars capable of crushing bones and feeding carnivorously.

Although they are known to feed off of the leftovers of other animals, they are not only scavengers. Hyenas are, in fact, skilled hunters. In the next section, we will learn more about their hunting habits and the types of animals they feed on.

What Do Hyenas Eat? - Type of diet of hyenas

What do hyenas eat?

The idea that hyenas are primarily scavengers has become popular, but this is not entirely true. Although capable of consuming significant amounts of carrion, hyenas are also capable of hunting, attacking, and killing other animals.

In general, hyenas are highly adaptable and opportunistic animals, meaning they adapt their diet to the prey available in their habitat. They may hunt or scavenge depending on the situation and are capable of eating and digesting skin, bones, and other animal waste.

When hunting, the size of the meal often depends on how large the hyena's clan is, since clans work together to take down prey. The larger the animal, the more members the clan must have to successfully kill it. Hyenas typically hide extra food in water holes, as nothing should be wasted. Depending on the species, we can specify a particular prey or food in each species:

Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea)

This species is more of a scavenger and relies on its developed sense of smell to locate the remains of dead animals left for consumption by other carnivores. If it has the opportunity to take down an animal at close range, it may do so. Foods that the brown hyena eats include:

  • Gazelles
  • Zebras
  • Hares
  • Jackals
  • Brown fur seal
  • Birds
  • Reptiles
  • Crustaceans
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Feces of other animals
  • Fruits with high water content in the dry season

Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena)

It is also primarily a scavenger, including various human wastes, as the ranges of hyenas and humans have increasingly overlapped over time. Foods they eat include:

  • Zebras
  • Wildebeests
  • Gazelles
  • Impalas
  • Insects
  • Rabbits
  • Rodents
  • Reptiles
  • Birds

Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

This species feeds about 70% on live prey that it hunts, which is an important difference from the other species. The spotted hyena is the most social of the Carnivora in that it has the largest group sizes and most complex social behaviors. They may hunt alone, and in small and large groups. They primarily feed on:

  • Zebras
  • Wildebeest
  • Gazelles
  • Antelopes
  • Cape buffalo
  • Impala
  • Wild boars
  • Hares
  • Ostriches
  • Jackals
  • Porcupines
  • Snakes
  • Lions
  • Other hyenas

Aardwolf (Proteles cristata)

As mentioned above, this species is an insectivore and feeds mainly on termites of the Trinervitermes and Hodotermes groups. They do not destroy the termite mound or consume the entire colony. Thus, they ensure that the termites can rebuild and provide a continuous food supply. They often memorize the location of such nests and return there every few months.

What Do Hyenas Eat? - What do hyenas eat?

Do hyenas eat lions?

Hyenas and lions have a close ecological relationship. It is common for hyenas to roam lions to eat the remains of animals that lions leave behind.

Although adult lions are stronger and larger than hyenas, hyenas usually hunt in groups and may attack a lion that is alone, especially if it is sick or injured.

As mentioned earlier, hyenas are carnivores and scavengers, meaning they will not hesitate to eat a lion if the opportunity arises.

Do hyenas attack humans?

Although they do not do so frequently, hyenas may attack humans under certain circumstances. These attacks are rare, but they have occurred, especially due to the growing human population in Africa, which has brought hyenas closer to human settlements.

Additionally, if hyenas come across a human corpse, they will eat it. Some African tribes even tend to leave their corpses in areas where hyenas live, so they can feed on them.

How much do hyenas eat?

Hyenas are known to have large appetites. It is somewhat difficult to know exactly how many pounds of meat or carrion a hyena can eat. However, some studies indicate that they can consume up to 30 pounds (ca. 14 kg) of meat per meal. When these animals have eaten enough and are satisfied, they tend to hide the rest of the food to consume the next day.

As mentioned earlier, hyenas are clean eaters, which means that they can consume the entire body of their prey. This includes the skeleton, bones, teeth, and horns.

Scavengers play an important role in the cycle of life. Thanks to them, organic material can decompose and enrich the soil. They also rid nature of corpses that, if left there, could cause and spread infections. Continue reading this other article to learn more about other scavenger animals.

What Do Hyenas Eat? - How much do hyenas eat?

If you want to read similar articles to What Do Hyenas Eat?, we recommend you visit our Healthy diets category.

Bibliography
  • STI. (2022). Hyaenidae. Available at: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=621756#null
  • Myers, P. (2000). "Hyaenidae". Animal Diversity Web. Available at: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Hyaenidae/
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, CS Parr, T. Jones, GS Hammond, and TA Dewey. (2022). The Animal Diversity Web. Available at: https://animaldiversity.org/search/?q=Hyaenidae&feature=INFORMATION
  • National Geographic. (2010). spotted hyena. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.es/animales/hiena-spotted

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