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How Can I Tell the Difference between Male and Female Spotted Hyenas?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Identifying the differences between male and female spotted hyenas can be difficult because both genders have external genitalia that are almost identical. Most of the differences tend to lie in behavior patterns and size. Female spotted hyenas tend to be larger than males and are more likely to take the lead in the life of the pack.

More facts about spotted hyenas:

  • Female spotted hyenas tend to weigh as much as 10 percent more than males. In addition, the females are often more aggressive than the males.

  • Well into the 20th century, there was a widespread misconception that spotted hyenas were bisexual, because of the similarity between the sexes. Along with biologists who accepted this theory, well-known figures such as writer Ernest Hemingway also promoted this idea.

  • Hyenas tend to hunt in packs and work together. A common strategy is for one hyena to disrupt a herd of animals while the others attack a weak member of that herd and ultimately chase the others away as the pack devours its prey.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main physical differences between male and female spotted hyenas?

Female spotted hyenas are generally larger and more dominant than males, with an average weight of about 12-14% more, according to research. They also possess a pseudo-penis, which is actually an elongated clitoris, making it challenging to distinguish them from males at first glance. Males are smaller and have a true penis and scrotum.

How can behavior be used to differentiate male and female spotted hyenas?

Behaviorally, female spotted hyenas are more aggressive and hold higher ranks within the clan's social structure. They lead group activities and are more assertive during feeding, often eating before males. Males typically exhibit more submissive behavior, especially when interacting with females, as they are lower in the social hierarchy.

Can the size of spotted hyenas help identify their sex?

Yes, size can be an indicator of sex in spotted hyenas. Females are usually larger and heavier than males. On average, females weigh around 55 to 70 kilograms (121 to 154 pounds), while males weigh approximately 40 to 55 kilograms (88 to 121 pounds). This size difference is one of the more noticeable physical attributes to help distinguish between the sexes.

Is there a difference in the social roles of male and female spotted hyenas within their clans?

Indeed, there is a significant difference in social roles. Female spotted hyenas are the clan's leaders and enforcers, maintaining social order and making decisions for the group. Males, on the other hand, are often immigrants from other clans and have to work their way up in the clan's hierarchy, usually remaining subordinate to all females.

How does the reproductive anatomy of spotted hyenas differ between sexes?

The reproductive anatomy of spotted hyenas is unique, with females having a pseudo-penis and no external vaginal opening. This structure is used for urination, copulation, and childbirth, making it difficult to distinguish from the male's true penis. Males have a typical mammalian reproductive anatomy with a penis and scrotum, which is less pronounced than the female's pseudo-penis.

Are there any genetic or hormonal differences between male and female spotted hyenas?

Genetically, male and female spotted hyenas have the typical chromosomal patterns of mammals, with males being XY and females XX. Hormonally, females have high levels of androgens, including testosterone, which is unusual for female mammals. This hormonal difference contributes to their masculinized genitalia and plays a role in their aggressive and dominant behavior within the clan.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGEEK, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writin...
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