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The hyena is a meat-eater that lives in Africa, south of the Sahara Desert, and in parts of the Middle East and Asia. Hyenas live in a variety of habitats, including savannas, dry plains, and brush. They are territorial, social animals that live in large groups called clans. Hyenas have an average life span of 12 years and can live up to 25 years.

When excited, a spotted hyena makes a giggling sound; this animal is often called the laughing hyena. There are many subspecies of hyenas, including the spotted hyena, the brown hyena, the striped hyena, and the aardwolf. The scientific name of the hyena is Crocuta crocuta. These strong runners are more closely related to mongooses and cats than they are to dogs (whom they superficially resemble).

Anatomy: Hyenas have a short, rough coat that is mottled, containing brown, tan and red colors. They have strong shoulders and a sloping back. The nose is black. Male and female hyenas are hard to distinguish because they have similar-looking external reproductive organs. Hyenas weigh from 82 to 190 pounds (37-86 kg). The spotted hyena is about 45 inches (114 cm) long plus a 13 inch (33 cm) tail. Female hyenas give birth to twins after a 3 to 4 month pregnancy.

Diet: Hyenas are primarily meat-eaters; they eat wildebeest (gnu), zebra, gazelle, buffalo, topi, eggs, insects, and fruit. Although they often kill prey, they are also scavengers, eating dead animals that they find. Lions often steal kill from hyenas. Hyenas have powerful jaws and sharp teeth that they use to break open bones so that they can eat the bone and marrow. They have very strong digestive systems; they can digest bones, teeth, tough skin, and horn! Hyenas can go without water for several days.

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