Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Creature Feature: Striped Hyena.

Hyenas are many things to many people: Enemies of lions, one of the noblest animals around (until you really look); the jokers of the savannah; the females of spotted hyenas darn near have, umm, lances where it counts. If you thought regular hyenas were crazy, wait until you leave Africa. They get a lot wilder as you head towards India. Seriously, this striped hyena has a mohawk running down its back.

Striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena) are definitely not the hyenas that the media like to pick on. Their range covers most of northern Africa into the Middle East and India. At one point, they even wandered as far north as France and Germany. That said, they have very nice winter coats. Populations are generally declining, but not quickly enough to place this hyena on the endangered list.

Striped hyenas are a lot smaller than their spotted cousins. They also have a distinctly sloping back and very weak hind limbs.There is no significant sexual dimorphism - a rarity in mammals. The size difference is one thing; at least in striped hyenas, the males and females have normal junk. Overall, they look more distinctly canid than spotted hyenas, even though they are still more closely related to cats than dogs.

The striped hyena, unlike the 'normal' hyena, is a solo scavenger. At most, it hunts in pairs, and may live in groups of up to seven - not large at all. It feeds on small vertebrates and whatever meat it finds. This puts the striped hyena in the position of a detritivore rather than a predator. That's still valuable; you would not want to be in a world without scavengers and decomposers.

Finally, that mane is amazing. When threatened, the striped hyena erects all the hairs along its spinal cord in an effort to make itself look bigger. The mane is also used to communicate between hyenas; it is not a target in combat, even though everything else is fair game. We think making the hyena look like it should be a Fire-type Pokemon was an unintentional side-effect.

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