What Do Hyenas Look Like?

Hyenas, from their loud, menacing laughter to their scavenging habits, make them seem like fierce and dangerous animals. But what do hyenas look like? Do they have more going for them than just being the villains of the animal kingdom?

Hyenas are medium-sized carnivorous mammals recognizable by their stocky bodies, large heads, rounded ears, mane extending from the head to the shoulders, and fur that is spotted or striped in various colors. They have sharp claws for digging and catching prey and excellent eyesight and hearing.

In this article, we’ll look in greater depth at the appearance of hyenas and how to tell them apart.

What Do Different Species of Hyenas Look Like?

Hyenas are extraordinary creatures with unique physical appearances. There are four different hyena species, all with different attributes.

Let’s look at each of them individually.

Hyena laying next to road

1. Striped Hyena

Striped hyenas have a distinctive physical appearance, with a long black snout and large, prominent ears that give them sharp hearing.

They weigh about 22.2 to 54.9 kg (49 to 121 lb), and they are 33 to 51 inches long. 

They are typically golden brown or gray, with dark stripes along their body. A thick mane running from neck to tail gives them a somewhat daunting look, while their legs are long and thin, a testament to their adeptness at running after prey over long distances.

striped hyena

2. Spotted Hyena

The spotted hyena is the largest species of hyena and one of the most recognizable. Spotted hyenas weigh 40-86 kg (88 to 190 lb) and are 37 to 56 inches long.

Their coat is usually light brown to yellowish-gray with spots all over their body, neck, and head.

They have large necks and shoulders, which gives them an imposing presence, while their long legs are sturdy and powerful.

Their faces are long and narrow with a distinctive black muzzle, large ears that stick up in the air, and small eyes.

spotted hyena

3. Brown Hyena

The Brown Hyena is easily recognizable for its reddish-brown coloration, which is darker around its legs and head. 

Brown Hyenas weigh 37-43 kg (83 to 96 lb) and are 51 to 63 inches long.

They have long shaggy coats ranging from light to dark brown. Its muzzle is long and slender compared to the other species of hyena, and its ears are more pointed than those of the Spotted Hyena.

brown hyena

4. Aardwolf

The Aardwolf is the smallest of the hyenas, weighing between 7-15 kg (15 and 33 lb) and is approximately 21 to 31 inches long. 

It has a yellow-gray coat with black stripes running down its back, legs, and neck. Its muzzle is long, and its ears are more rounded. Aardwolves have five toes on each foot, unlike the four of other hyena species.

They have a unique diet consisting mostly of termites and ants, which licks up with their long tongue.

It has a long bushy tail, and its claws are specialized for digging, which it uses to find termites in the African savannas.

Aardwolf

What Are the Distinctive Features of Hyenas That Make Them Unique?

Yes, there are several distinctive features of hyenas that make them unique.

  • They have very powerful jaw and neck muscles, allowing them to crunch through bones easily.
  • Hyenas can run at speeds up to 60 kph (37 mph), making them one of the fastest animals in the African savannah. 
  • Hyenas possess a strong sense of smell, allowing them to locate food from far away.
  • They also have a unique bark-like call used for communication between members of their species. This ability makes them one of the few mammals that can communicate vocally. 
  • They are very intelligent creatures and are known to be able to solve complex problems. Hyenas feature a unique social structure that is based upon matriarchal dominance.
  • Hyenas have a specialized digestive system that can break down bone material and extract nutrition from the marrow inside.
  • The female of the species is usually dominant over the males and will often lead when it comes to hunting and scavenging for food.

All these features combine to make the hyena an impressive and fascinating animal.

The hyena is a distinctive creature, possessing characteristics similar to those of cats. But it does not mean that they are felines. Instead, the Hyenas belong to their own taxonomic family, Hyaenidae.

Hyenas diverged from other species early on in the evolutionary timeline and developed unique traits that distinguish them from both cats and dogs.

Hyenas are known for their scavenging behavior, powerful jaws, and bone-crushing teeth. They also have a unique social structure in which females dominate males and dominate the pack hierarchy.

Hyenas communicate with vocalizations that include whoops, growls, laughs, and grunts.

This combination of physical characteristics and behavioral traits has made the hyena a fascinating animal to study in the wild.

How Does the Physical Appearance of Hyenas Make Them Dangerous?

Hyenas are often viewed as menacing and intimidating animals due to their physical appearance. They have long, pointed ears that act like radar dishes, helping them detect even the slightest sound in their environment. 

Their powerful jaws can easily crush bone, giving them the strength to take down larger prey.

Additionally, they possess strong claws, which they use to hold onto and tear into their meals.

Their large eyes give them excellent night vision, allowing them to hunt in the dark. With these powerful features, hyenas can be an incredibly dangerous predatory force.

Ranger Insights | Hyena Hierarchy

Final Thoughts On Hyenas

Hyenas, belonging to the taxonomic family Hyaenidae, are characterized by their scavenging behavior, powerful jaws, and bone-crushing teeth. They have an unusual social structure in which females dominate males and rule the pack hierarchy. 

Their communication includes whoops, growls, laughs, and grunts. These physical and behavioral traits make the hyena an intriguing animal to observe in its natural environment.