Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Creature Feature: Spotted Hyenas.

Well, that was the most vile "They Actually Eat That" I've ever done. It delayed my post about another scavenger with far more sanitary eating habits.

Hyenas (specifically the spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta) are a fairly common animal to see in popular culture. They are most often set against lions as an 'evil dog' of sorts and/or used for comedic effect. There is some truth in this; lions and hyenas do indeed hate each other, with hyenas going so far as to kill lion cubs on a regular basis.

Besides their rivalry with lions, hyenas are known for their whooping calls resembling human laughter. These calls are just as multifaceted as bird songs, telling the age, mood, and social standing of any hyena in question. Unlike wolves, which howl in unison to show their strength as a pack, hyenas will call alone. It's almost language! (Thanks a lot, Noam Chomsky...stunting the field of animal language studies...)

Nearly all cartoons fail to tell you that hyenas are not related to dogs. They are more closely related to cats and mongooses, even if they do have some features that make them seem canine. They are also adept hunters, relying on keen vision as opposed to scent or hearing. (This is not as true for other hyena species - spotted hyenas have special teeth designed for both scavenging and hunting. Other hyenas do not.)

Not particular to EITHER common branch of carnivora is the hyena's unique social system, which largely derives its rules from the female's dick.

Wait. What?

Female hyenas have an enlarged clitoris, which looks an AWFUL lot like a penis. They urinate, screw, and give birth through this pseudo-penis. They are also one of the few mammals in which the female is larger than the male (and rightfully so, given that their babies are the biggest relative to the mother). This makes mating considerably more difficult, but also gives the female more choosing power in the process. (It also looks really awkward when they do it, but look that up on your own.)

Yes, that is a FEMALE hyena. Imagine giving birth through that!

Spotted hyena clans are matriarchal, and function a lot more like primate clans than wolf packs or lion prides. Hyenas among the most intelligent carnivorids, outperforming chimpanzees on problem-solving tests.

The real test: Can they outperform THIS chimpanzee?

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