Hyaenidae

Scavengers or Hunters?

Most of us associate hyenas with smelling carrion, eating the left-overs of lions. Although hyenas are well adapted to feed on carrion, the spotted hyena is also a skilled hunter.

The “running hyena” Chasmorpothetes was a slender cursorial hunter during the Plio-Pleistocene epoch.

The aardwolf feeding on termites only is another example on the variety in hyaenid diet.

Hyenas appear very dog-like to us and mostly it is believed they are more related to canines. The truth is they are more closer to cats, and beside shape their own taxonomical family called Hyaenidae.

The earliest known fossil is Plioviverrops occurring in Europe and Asia during the Early Miocene and Early Pliocene, around 22 Million years ago. This animal is more mongoose-like and thus also falls into this ecomorphological category following Turner et al., 2008 and Solounias, 1996.

The family is rich in species, about 70 are described and most of them are not bone-crushers as we know them today. During the Early Miocene most of them were mongoose-like and civet-like (e.g. Protictitherium) eating from insects. Bone craking started in hyenas started with the cursorial meat and bone eaters and transitorily bone crackers during the Late Miocene. Especially Chasmaporthetes had a high number of species occurring in Eurasia, Africa and even reached Northern America. This cursorial meat eater occupied the nice of modern canines “dogs” which were by then restricted to the American continent. Chasmarpothetes became extinct during the Early Pleistocene when canids invaded through the Beringian strait and replaced their ecological niche.

Common dwarf mongoose – earliest hyenas were most comparable to these animals rather to dogs like today

The oldest true bone-cracker among the Hyaenas was Adcrocuta first appearance during the Late Miocene. This taxon has the typical conic-shaped tooth structure that we can find in the three bone-cracking hyenas today.

Significant for hyaenids is that the upper and lower second molar is missing, while these teeth are still present in the canid dentition.

Bone-cracking Hyenas today are highly social animals, especially the spotted hyena living in large clans of up to more than 100 individuals. They are omnivorous and feed on carrion, although all three species can hunt on prey. This is espcecially the case of the spotted hyaena which is an successful and efficient hunter in Africa.

Hyaenidae
Spotted Hyena

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 Hyaenidae
Brown Hyena

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 Hyaenidae
Striped Hyena

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Hyaenidae
Aardwolf

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