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Hyenas

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Jan. 7th, 2013 | 12:49 am

I've been fascinated by spotted hyenas ever since the late 90s when I initially learned about them, but re-reading about them on Wikipedia, I'm again struck by what amazing animals they are:

Although individual spotted hyenas only care for their own young, and males take no part in raising their young, cubs are able to identify relatives as distantly related as great-aunts. Also, males associate more closely with their own daughters rather than unrelated cubs, and the latter favour their fathers by acting less aggressively toward them.

Spotted hyena societies are more complex than those of other carnivorous mammals, and are remarkably similar to those of cercopithecine primates in respect to group size, structure, competition and cooperation. Like cercopithecine primates, spotted hyenas use multiple sensory modalities, recognise individual conspecifics, are conscious that some clan-mates may be more reliable than others, recognise 3rd party kin and rank relationships among clan-mates, and adaptively use this knowledge during social decision making.

[...] A study done by evolutionary anthropologists demonstrated that spotted hyenas outperform chimpanzees on cooperative problem-solving tests; captive pairs of spotted hyenas were challenged to tug two ropes in unison to earn a food reward, successfully cooperating and learning the maneuvers quickly without prior training. Experienced hyenas even helped inexperienced clan-mates to solve the problem. In contrast, chimps and other primates often require extensive training, and cooperation between individuals is not always as easy for them. The intelligence of the spotted hyena was attested to by Dutch colonists in 19th century South Africa, who noted that hyenas were exceedingly cunning and suspicious, particularly after successfully escaping from traps. Spotted hyenas seem to plan on hunting specific species in advance; hyenas have been observed to indulge in activities such as scent marking before setting off to hunt zebras, a behaviour which does not occur when they target other prey species. Also, spotted hyenas have been recorded to utilise deceptive behaviour, including giving alarm calls during feeding when no enemies are present, thus frightening off other hyenas and allowing them to temporarily eat in peace. Similarly, mothers will emit alarm calls in attempting to interrupt attacks on their cubs by other hyenas.

Apparently, they can also be tamed surprisingly well, although they still do not make good pets for a variety of reasons:

Although easily tamed, spotted hyenas are exceedingly difficult to house train, and can be very destructive; a captive, otherwise perfectly tame, specimen in the Tower of London managed to tear an 8-foot (2.4 m) long plank nailed to its recently repaired enclosure floor with no apparent effort. During the research leading to the composition of his monograph The Spotted Hyena: A Study of Predation and Social Behavior, Hans Kruuk kept a tame hyena he named Solomon. Kruuk found Solomon's company so congenial, he would have kept him, but Solomon had an insatiable taste for "cheese in the bar of the tourist lounge and bacon off the Chief Park Warden's breakfast table," and no door could hold him back, so Solomon was obliged to live out his days in the Edinburgh Zoo.

Make no mistake; hyenas are wild animals, and should be allowed to live as such. But they're fascinating and beautiful animals, too, highly intelligent and social, and whatever bad rap they have is definitely undeserved.


Kevin Richardson with hyenas (photo: Kevin Richardson; licensed under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license)

("Bacon off the Chief Park Warden's breakfast table". *snrk* ^^)

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Comments {13}

The Goddess of Smoo

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from: heathersmoo
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 01:08 am (UTC)
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Are these the ones with the matriarchial societies or am I thinking of another hyena? I remember reading article after article in grad school about pseduopenises.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 01:23 am (UTC)
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You're right, those are the same ones! Even low-ranking females outrank even high-ranking males in spotted hyena society, and yes, the female genitals are rather unusual — the labiae are fused and form a pseudoscrotum filled with fatty tissue, while the clitoris is enlarged into an erectile pseudopenis that's also used for copulation and for giving birth through.

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The Goddess of Smoo

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from: heathersmoo
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 01:29 am (UTC)
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Thought so. I remember a friend who's not a biologist asking me how my day went one time and I answered honestly that I had spent most of it reading about hyena pseudopenis eruption during delivery and sperm competition in bats and that it was a fairly typical day. They never asked me ever again how I spent my time. I can't imagine why not. :P

Hyenas are cool and adorable, for sure.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 10:22 am (UTC)
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*chuckles* That does sound like an interesting conversation you had there. I'm always a little surprised by how prudish/squeamish people can be, though — if someone gave me the same answer, then if anything, I'd probably find it interesting and ask more about it. Certainly it wouldn't keep me from asking them about their days again.

I actually never knew you were a biologist, either! That's cool; I should probably be careful what I say about animals around you then, lest I'll out myself as a complete layperson without any real understanding of zoology. :)

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The Goddess of Smoo

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from: heathersmoo
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 06:25 pm (UTC)
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lol, I'm actually usually the sqeamish prude. I remember it was a tough answer to give. You spend so much time around other people who find those studies normal that when you are back out in real life with normal people, they expect answers like "accounting" or some such.

Willingness both to learn and admit the limits of your knowledge is important. Also, there are so many different things to know that I find myself forgetting a lot as well. I always feel like a doofus when I forget stuff like whether the hyenas you were mentioning were the ones I was thinking of. You seem to know more than most, don't doubt yourself. I have had many people argue with me that fish are not animals or that ants are made of dirt. The lack of common knowledge is truly shocking and dismaying at times.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
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Ah, thank you. :) I do enjoy learning new things, that's certainly true, and I'm generally not afraid to admit it when I don't know something.

I have had many people argue with me that fish are not animals or that ants are made of dirt. The lack of common knowledge is truly shocking and dismaying at times.

What, really? o.o I agree, that's not something you'd expect from any reasonably intelligent, educated adult these days.

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The Goddess of Smoo

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from: heathersmoo
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 06:51 pm (UTC)
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Yes, this was coming from folks I went to college with who were not bio majors but they were highly intelligent in other ways so I just don't know. It just seems like the average person thinks that animal and mammal are the same exact thing.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 07:19 pm (UTC)
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Mmm, might be — still, I'm finding it quite astounding.

I'm sometimes seeing similar attitudes in other areas as well, actually. Mathematics are a good example; a surprising number of people are surprisingly ignorant about math, not just in the sense that they hardly know any, not even just in the sense that they maintain they "don't have a talent for that" and can't learn it, but also in the sense that they're oddly proud of it. Whereas somebody who doesn't know the least bit about physics or chemistry or biology might be considered lacking by society, it's quite acceptable to not know anything about mathematics, even how to do simple calculations. People sometimes wear it as a badge of honor, and engage in collective backpatting and social bonding over their being regular, normal, down-to-earth folks, something that an aversion to mathematics is apparently proof of.

I've not seen the same thing for other fields, though, including biology. Ants are made of dirt, and fish aren't animals? That's mind-boggling — to paraphrase Babbage, I cannot rightly apprehend the kind of confusion that would provoke such ideas.

(OK, maybe I'm being too hard on people there. But still — if somebody said these things to me, I'd believe that they're pulling my tail.)

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Drhoz!

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from: drhoz
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 11:22 am (UTC)
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*chuckles* biologists have the best Xmas Dinner conversations - mine was about botflies and Leishmaniasis.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 11:38 am (UTC)
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Don't tell me you're a biologist, too. I'm surrounded by 'em, and I never even knew! :)

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Drhoz!

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from: drhoz
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC)
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yup :)

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Marko the Rat

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from: marko_the_rat
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 08:31 am (UTC)
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I heartily agree! Hyenas deserve our respect.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jan. 7th, 2013 10:12 am (UTC)
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Indeed! It's really sad how much of a bad rap hyenas have been getting and still continue to get; it's not really surprising that laypeople often have misconceptions about them and a bad opinion of them, and I really hope that this'll change.

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