Savanna, semidesert, scrubland, and mountain

Is it a dog?

So, you think you know all about spotted hyenas—the ones known to "laugh"? They're in lots of cartoons and movies, and they're usually in the role of giggly villains. But is that really a fair description? Although dog-like in appearance, the spotted hyena is more closely related to cats, civets, and genets. Also called the laughing hyena, this interesting carnivore is found throughout Africa below the Sahara Desert, living in savannas, semiarid regions, scrublands and, in some cases, in mountainous areas.

The spotted hyena is thought to be the strongest, most capable hunter of any predator its size. It is the largest member of the hyena family (other members are the striped hyena, brown hyena, and aardwolf). Female spotted hyenas are a bit larger than the males, but otherwise they look exactly the same.

A little of this, a little of that

The spotted hyena looks a bit thrown together. It has a large head with a long, thick, muscular neck and powerful jaws that give the hyena the strongest bite of any mammal. Its front legs are longer than its back legs, giving the animal a hunched look, and its paws have four toes with nonretractable claws. The short, coarse fur has a yellow or gray tint and is covered in spots, which are darker on younger hyenas.

A short mane along the back of the neck is always standing upright, making the spotted hyena look bigger and more dangerous to opponents. Its only true predators are lions and humans.

What a mouthful! Hyenas can eat one-third of their body weight at one meal.
Spotted hyenas can digest things that most other animals cannot, like skin and bone. Special acids in their stomach break down these rare delicacies.
Hyena fossils have been found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa; but for the last 8,000 years, the spotted hyena has lived only in Africa.
Spotted hyenas can trot at 6 miles (10 kilometers) per hour without getting tired for long distances. They can run up to 30 miles (50 kilometers) per hour and are good swimmers.

Spotted hyena brothers Turbo and Zephyr live along Center Street at the San Diego Zoo.

While spotted hyenas are not threatened at the moment, things could change. Drought can have drastic effects on the food chain, from herbivores to carnivores.

You can help us bring species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.