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Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding


Carnivores (East and Hofer 2013; Eloff 1964)

  • Skilled, flexible hunters (East and Hofer 2013; Eloff 1964)
    • Prey body mass range: 20-250 kg (44-550 lb) (Cooper et al. 1999)
    • May hunt larger animals, buffalo and giraffe, that are either very young, pregnant or injured (Cooper et al. 1999)
  • Consume all portions of prey
    • Eat the meat, flesh, bone, and hair (East and Hofer 2013; Koepfli et al. 2006; Kruuk 1972)

Seasonal and regional variation in diet

  • Exploit seasonal influx of migratory species
    • E.g. wildebeest in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya (Cooper et al. 1999)

Scavenger opportunistically

  • Traditional view as gluttonous scavengers is inaccurate (Gould 1981)
  • Importance of carrion in diet varies by locality and season (East and Hofer 2013)


Major dietary items (Bearder 1977; Breuer 2005; Cooper 1990; Cooper et al. 1999; Di Silvestre et al. 2000; Kruuk 1972; Mills 1984a)

  • Medium to large ungulates
    • Most frequently targeted prey type
    • Wildebeest, Thompson's gazelle, Buffon's kob, topi, zebra, impala, hartebeest, giraffe, buffalo, warthog, hippopotamus, duiker, steenbok, waterbuck, kudu, roan antelope, oribi, reedbuck, dik dik, tesessebe, bushbuck
  • Small mammals (Bearder 1977; Breuer 2005; Cooper 1990; Cooper et al. 1999; Di Silvestre et al. 2000; Kruuk 1972; Mills 1984a)
    • Scrub hare, springhare, baboon, patas monkey, African crested porcupine, rodents, genet, African civet

Uncommonly consumed animals (Bearder 1977; Breuer 2005; Cooper 1990; Cooper et al. 1999; Di Silvestre et al. 2000; Kruuk 1972; Mills 1984a)

  • Mammals
    • Elephant, mongoose, bat-eared fox, jackal, African wild dog
  • Reptiles
    • Tortoise and snakes
  • Birds
  • Fish
  • Invertebrates
    • Termites, insects, earthworms


  • Grass
    • Commonly found in feces and regurgitated material (Bearder 1977)

Hunting Prey

Most significant source of dietary intake (from Cooper et al. 1999 unless otherwise noted)

  • Typically kill own prey
    • Primary source of dietary intake for many populations
      • 25-60% of observed feeding events (Cooper 1990; Cooper et al. 1999; Mills 1984b)
      • Estimated c. 95% of the annual food biomass for a Masai Mara population

Hunting packs

  • Group composition often fluctuates during nightly hunting (Cooper 1990)
    • Hunt alone or in small groups of 2-4 individuals (Cooper 1990; Mills 1984b)
      • Solitary hunters generally take smaller prey (Cooper 1990)
      • Form larger groups, 12 or more, when cubs accompany adults (Cooper 1990)
  • Selectively target larger animals when available (Cooper et al. 1999; Di Silvestre et al. 2000)
    • Requires larger, cooperative packs, c. 8-25 (Kruuk 1972)
    • Often slowly, persistently pursue groups of prey to test or tire individuals (Kruuk 1972)

Strategy and technique for large prey

  • Seeking prey
    • Olfactory and auditory cues help locate prey (Mills 1984b)
  • Approach slowly from downwind (Cooper 1990)
    • Group fans out, spaced 5-10 m apart (Cooper 1990)
  • Test prey (from Cooper 1990 unless otherwise noted)
    • Dash at the herd initially to scatter individuals (Cooper 1990; Kruuk 1972)
    • Followed by an observational pause (Cooper 1990; Kruuk 1972)
      • Abandon hunt if no suitable individual is identified (Cooper 1990; Kruuk 1972)
  • Chase vulnerable individuals (from Cooper 1990 unless otherwise noted)
    • Typically for short distances at high speed
      • Distances of 500 to 2500 m, typically (Mills 1984b)
      • To 20 minutes or more on occasion; generally for the largest prey
  • Bites directed at rump and loins (Cooper 1990; Kruuk 1972)
    • Claws are not used to take down prey (Kruuk 1972)
    • Feeding often commenses before death (Cooper 1990; Kruuk 1972)
      • Disembowel prey (Mills 1984b)
  • Following kill
    • Nearby clan members often converge to feed (Cooper 1990)

Strategy and technique for small prey

  • Bite the back of the neck (Cooper 1990; Mills 1984b)
    • Crush the spine and skull


Opportunistically scavenge

  • Contribution to diet varies by locality
    • Importance of this food source diminishes when alternative food is plentiful (Cooper et al. 1999)
    • More common when carrion is plentiful and preferred prey are limited (Kruuk 1972; Cooper et al. 1999)
  • Remains often left for extended periods
    • Dry carcasses repeatedly visited at later times, especially by immature, sick, or injured individuals
  • Sources of carrion
    • Remnants stolen from other carnivores or overtaken when abandoned
      • Rarely steal meat from lions, 17 incidents in 7 year study (Cooper et al. 1999)
        • Typically wait for lions to abandon remains or return at intervals until lions are no longer present (Bearder 1977)
      • Lions consume the internal organs and some leg muscle from larger prey, often leaving the remaining parts for scavengers (Bearder 1977)
    • Carcasses of animals succumbing to environmental stress, e.g., seasonal drought (Bearder 1977)

Feeding Behavior

Patterns of feeding

  • Begin eating at the belly or groin
    • Preferred portions eaten first unless the carcass has previously been opened by other carnivores (Kruuk 1972)
  • Legs, pelvis, and vertebral column follow
    • Often severed and carried off
  • Head last to be consumed


  • Eat quickly
    • Remains of a 100 kg (220 lb), yearling wildebeest were completely consumed in less than 15 minutes by a groups of 21 hyenas, only a bloody spot marked where the prey died (Kruuk 1972)
    • In large groups, individuals push in shoulder to shoulder, climb over and on top of one another, and cover the carcass (Kruuk 1972)
      • Snap at neighbors, raise mane or tail to claim a feeding area or piece of meat; such aggression rarely results in injury
    • In small groups, dominance plays a role in feeding order; females typically claim contested food (Kruuk 1972)
      • Males often excluded from small kills while females eat
      • Juvenile cubs feed last, though they can obtain preferential feeding status when protected by their mother
  • Gorge
    • Consume large quantities when alone or in small groups, though not the rule (Bearder 1977; Cooper 1990; Cooper et al. 1999)
      • One three year old hyena consumed c. 18 kg of bait in one night, returning to feed the following night
      • Two adults known to consume a 50 kg impala in less than 1.5 hours


  • Dive under water to feed
    • Tear flesh from submerged carcasses, staying under up to 12 seconds (Kruuk 1972)
  • Size of prey impacts feeding dynamics and food intake
    • A large carcass supports greater numbers of feeding individuals
      • 7 or fewer individuals typically fed on carcasses weighing 100 kg or less (Kruuk 1972)
    • Larger carcasses provide more food per individual, but may be more difficult to capture (Kruuk 1972)
      • Up to 52 individuals observed eating at the same carcass (Kruuk 1972)

Specialize Teeth Crush Bone

Spotted hyena teeth

Spotted hyena teeth are specialized for a carnivorous lifestyle. Cheek teeth are robust and capable of crushing large bones. This image taken at the Auob Riverbed, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa.

Image credit: © Bernard Dupont from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Bearder (1977)
Breuer (2005)
Cooper (1990)
Cooper et al. (1999)
Di Silvestre et al. (2000)
East and Hofer (2013)
Eloff (1964)
Gould (1981)
Koepfli et al. (2006)
Kruuk (1972)
Mills (1984a)
Mills (1984b)

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