There are four present-day members of the hyaenidae family:
- Brown Hyena
- Striped Hyena
- Spotted Hyena
What makes the hyena family so special?
Physiological: Hyenas (except the aardwolf) have key physiological differences that are easily observed in their molars. Dental count is less, with carnassial molars being exceptionally large. This gives hyenas a unique feature of cracking weight-bearing bones of large prey.
To support the immense jaw strength, hyenas (again, with the exception to the aardwolf) have longer, powerful neck and hindquarters. This allows the hyena to grab and drag heavy prey.
While Hyenas are often mistaken for being members of the canine family, they are in their own unique family. Hyenas, however are more closely related to cats than dogs. The closest living relatives to the hyaenidae family are:
- The Mongoose Family (Herpestidae)
- Foosas (Eupleridae)
- Civets (Viverridae)
Why do hyenas look like dogs if they are more related to cats?
This is an example of convergent evolution, which is defined as the independent evolution of similar features in species of different lineages. Through the generations, hyenas have developed traits that allow them to track and capture prey: similar skull structure, non-retractable claws, etc. These traits give them the appearance of looking more canine when they are not. Another example of convergent evolution in a rival African Animal is the cheetah. Cheetah are the only big-cat to have non-retractable claws which give them more traction to chase prey.
Are Hyenas Scavengers?
Hyenas are extremely effective predators, they will actively hunt and kill prey animals. Like most predators though, they are opportunistic scavengers. This means they will scavenger over activity hunting if the opportunity is present. The act of opportunistic scavenging allows for a greater diversity for the hyena to obtain food in the most energy efficient way possible. Think of it this way, it’s easier for you to grab a meal from a fast-food drive through than it is to make dinner from scratch. Sometimes fast-food places are abundant, other times you must make your own meals.
Other common opportunistic scavengers include: