Not going to lie, I think that hyenas are among my favourite animals of all time, hands down (notice the logo up there?). They have a fossil history that I find surprising (and disappointingly diverse, given the mere 4 living species today) while their social behaviour and adaptability make them admirable and terrifying in equal parts. Especially the subject today, the spotted hyenaCrocuta crocuta.
Spotted hyenas are the largest living hyena, and are widespread in Africa. Different populations can be different sizes with females generally being larger and more dominant. They usually live in large groups called clans although they can be solitary as well. In these large groups spotted hyenas act together to bring down large prey, running at 60km/h over several kilometres. They are efficient, fast hunters that in some places capture most of their own prey, although it can be stolen by lions.
Hyenas are, of course, most notable for their ability to eat carrion, with heavy jaws and massive teeth that can smash through bones of almost any animal to extract even the smallest nutrient. Almost as important as their teeth, their digestive system is extremely powerful, allowing hyenas to digest even hair and horns.
It is unfortunate that hyenas are often held up as cowardly scavengers. For one, they are equally effective hunters. For another, there is nothing cowardly about scavenging, especially when they, like many African animals, live in places where survival is difficult at the best of times–finding any way to survive is how this group has managed to avoid extinction.
As a group, hyenas are related most closely to cats and mongooses, and are descended from civet-like animals, appearing in fossils from the Miocene. At this time, they were smaller and more generalized. As they evolved hyenas became diverse, ranging from dog-like hunters to scavengers like today to high-speed, cheetah-like predators. Of course, only the generalists-scavengers survive today. For a time spotted hyenas were even part of the ice age faunas of Europe (the cave hyena Crocuta crocuta spelaea) where they were even larger than today, although not as large as some contemporary relatives that were almost lion-sized. Modern hyenas are found in Africa and parts of Asia, but for much of their history were found throughout Eurasia and Africa. A few of the high-speed hunting species made appearances in North America. It is likely that competition from dogs and changes in environments pushed most hyenas to extinction.
The MOJO Spotted hyena is a great figure, well-proportioned and with an almost-cute face. The overall colour is yellowish-brown with spots randomly painted on. The figure gives a good sense of the proportions of the animal, with the sloping back and longer neck, plus the strong jowls on the head and large, alert ears. A great figure for recreating the African savannahs or even a European Ice age, to mix with mammoths and bison.
For those looking to expand their hyenas a little further, there is also a great, more robust spotted hyena from Safari. Or, to explore the family a little, there is a great striped hyena from CollectA which scales well with the two spotted hyena figures.