Weighing about 56 to 75 kg (123 to 165 lb.), female spotted hyenas are about 15% heavier than males. The females are dominant; spotted hyena 'clans' are matriarchal.
The strong, stocky, adult spotted hyena is quite capable of bringing down prey as large as a zebra, although it prefers smaller animals. Hyenas hunt alone and in packs, chasing their prey and killing it by disembowelment. More often, however, hyenas eat carrion. Bold, they sometimes drive other animals, even lions, from their kill.
In proportion to its size, the hyena's jaws are probably the most powerful of any living mammal. They normally eat almost an entire carcass, including bones, horns and teeth, leaving only the rumen contents. Their highly efficient digestive system can process its meal within 24 hours.
These noisy animals have several types of cries, grunts and bloodcurdling howls. During mating season, and when they are attacked or otherwise excited, they make a sound that seems, to the human ear, like maniacal laughing.
Hyenas are found all over the African savannah south of the Sahara, although they are becoming rare in South Africa. Their yellowish coats are dotted with brown. They usually spend the day in their rocky, underground dens, emerging to hunt at night.