AskDefine | Define hyena

Dictionary Definition

hyena n : doglike nocturnal mammal of Africa and southern Asia that feeds chiefly on carrion [syn: hyaena]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  • , /haɪˈiːnə/, /haI"i:n@/


  1. A large carnivore of the family Hyaenidae, similar in appearance to a dog and native to Africa and Asia, best known for the sound resembling laughter that it makes when excited.






hyena (plural hyena's)



hyena (p: hyenor, def sing: hyenan, def pl: hyenorna)
  1. hyena

Extensive Definition

The Hyaenidae is a mammalian family of order Carnivora. The Hyaenidae family, native to both African and Asian continents, is divided into the "true hyenas" (Striped and Brown hyenas, along with Crocuta, the Spotted Hyena) and the Aardwolf (subfamily Protelinae).


Hyenas seem to have originated 22 million years ago from arboreal ancestors bearing similarities to the modern Banded Palm Civet. Plioviverrops, one of the earliest hyenas, was a lithe civet-like creature that inhabited Eurasia 20-22 million years ago. Details from the middle ear and dental structure marked it as a primitive hyena. This genus proved successful, its descendants flourishing with more pointed jowels and racier legs, much as the Canidae had done in North America. Fifteen million years ago, dog-like hyenas flourished, with 30 different species being identified. Unlike some of their modern descendants, these hyenas were not specialized bone-crushers, but were more nimble, wolf-like animals. The dog-like hyenas had canid-like molars, allowing them to supplement their carnivorous diet with vegetation and invertebrates.
Five to seven million years ago, the dog-like hyenas were outcompeted by canids traveling from North America to Eurasia via the Bering land bridge. The ancestral aardwolves survived by having adapted themselves to an insectivorous diet to which few canids had specialized. Some hyenas began evolving bone crushing teeth in order to avoid competing with the canids, resulting in the hyenas eventually outcompeting a family of similarly built bone crushers called "percrocutoids". The percrocutoids became extinct 7 million years ago, coinciding exactly with the rise of bone crushing hyena species. Unlike the canids who flourished in the newly colonized Eurasian continent, only one hyena species, the cheetah-like Chasmaporthetes managed to cross to North America. It went extinct 1.5 million years ago. The bone crushing hyenas became the Old World's dominant scavengers, managing to take advantage of the amount of meat left over from the kills of sabre-toothed cats. One such species was Pachycrocuta, a up 200 kg (440 lb) mega-scavenger that could crush elephant bones.

Appearance & Biology

Although hyenas bear some physical resemblance to canids, they make up a separate biological family that is most closely related to Herpestidae (the family of mongooses and meerkats), thereby falling within the Feliformia. All species have a distinctly bear-like gait due to their front legs being longer than their back legs. The Aardwolf, Striped Hyena and Brown Hyena have striped pelts and manes lining the top of their necks which erect when frightened. The Spotted Hyena's fur is considerably shorter and spotted rather than striped. Unlike other species, its mane is reversed forwards.
Spotted Hyenas and, to a lesser extent, Striped and Brown Hyenas, have powerful carnassial teeth adapted for cutting flesh and premolars for crushing bone. Spotted hyenas have a strong bite proportional to their size, but the view that they have the strongest bite is a myth; and a number of other animals (including the Tasmanian devil) are proportionately stronger. The Aardwolf has greatly reduced cheek teeth, sometimes absent in the adult, but otherwise has the same dentition as the other three species. The dental formula for all hyena species is:
hyena in Tosk Albanian: Hyäne
hyena in Arabic: ضبع
hyena in Bengali: হায়েনা
hyena in Catalan: Hiena
hyena in Czech: Hyenovití
hyena in Danish: Hyæner
hyena in German: Hyänen
hyena in Spanish: Hyaenidae
hyena in Persian: کفتار
hyena in French: Hyaenidae
hyena in Galician: Hiena
hyena in Korean: 하이에나
hyena in Croatian: Hijene
hyena in Ido: Hieno
hyena in Indonesian: Hyena
hyena in Italian: Hyaenidae
hyena in Hebrew: צבועיים
hyena in Georgian: აფთარი
hyena in Lithuanian: Hieniniai
hyena in Hungarian: Hiénafélék
hyena in Dutch: Hyena's
hyena in Japanese: ハイエナ
hyena in Norwegian: Hyenefamilien
hyena in Norwegian Nynorsk: Hyene
hyena in Polish: Hienowate
hyena in Portuguese: Hienídeo
hyena in Romanian: Hyaenidae
hyena in Russian: Гиена
hyena in Sicilian: Hyaenidae
hyena in Simple English: Hyena
hyena in Serbian: Хијена
hyena in Finnish: Hyeenat
hyena in Swedish: Hyenor
hyena in Vietnamese: Linh cẩu
hyena in Turkish: Sırtlangiller
hyena in Chinese: 鬣狗

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

African hunting dog, Cape hunting dog, animal, anthropophagite, barbarian, beast, brush wolf, brute, cannibal, coyote, cur, destroyer, dingo, dog, fox, hound, insect, jackal, lobo, man-eater, medicine wolf, mongrel, nihilist, pig, polecat, prairie wolf, reptile, reynard, savage, serpent, shark, skunk, snake, swine, tiger, timber wolf, vandal, varmint, vermin, viper, whelp, wild man, wolf, worm, wrecker
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