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The word "hyena" is an umbrella term that actually describes three distinct and separate mammalian species, all of which are part of the family Hyaenidae. The three species are the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and the brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea). Although not classified as hyenas, the family also has a fourth relative -- the aardwolf (Proteles cristata).
Spotted Hyena Diet
Spotted hyenas aren't picky eaters in any sense of the word. These omnivores are notorious scavengers that frequently feast on the carrion of previously killed animals, but that isn't the full extent on their diet. Spotted hyenas are adept hunters in their own right, preying on reptiles, birds and even wee bugs. They prefer going after mammals that exceed 40 pounds in weight, according to the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. Some of the larger animals that spotted hyenas prey on include wildebeests, zebras and antelope. They generally hunt in units of between two and five individuals, although sometimes more -- especially when it comes to big prey.
Striped Hyena Diet
Striped hyenas, like spotted hyenas, are frequent scavengers, with particular penchants for impalas, gazelles, wildebeests and zebras. They too have the ability to hunt, and often go after goats, sheep, horses and donkeys. Other common components of the striped hyena diet are bugs, fruit, birds, reptiles, mice and hares.
Brown Hyena Diet
Brown hyenas, like both other hyena species, are regular carrion eaters. Unlike their fellow hyena relatives, however, brown hyenas don't usually kill their prey by themselves, although there are some exceptions -- think tiny mammals and birds, for example. Flesh isn't the only thing that brown hyenas consume, either. These guys are also big fans of melon, which also assists them in maintaining hydration levels. Bird and insect eggs are also elements of their diet.
Aardwolves (Proteles cristata) aren't called hyenas, but are indeed members of the hyena family. In terms of sustenance, aardwolves are like night and day when compared with hyenas. Termites essentially make up the entirety of their food intake, rather than mammalian flesh. Aardwolves look for sustenance independently, rather than in groups.
- Hyaena Specialist Group: Aardwolf - Diet and Foraging
- Zoological Society of Milwaukee: Spotted Hyena
- Animal Diversity Web: Crocuta Crocuta
- Animal Diversity Web: Hyaenidae
- San Diego Zoo: Spotted Hyena
- San Diego Zoo: Striped Hyena
- Animal Diversity Web: Hyaena Hyaena
- Animal Diversity Web: Hyaena Brunnea
- Kruger National Park: Brown Hyaena
- Animal Diversity Web: Proteles Cristata
- Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images