In Case You Wanted To Know: Female Hyenas Give Birth Through Penises

Photo: WeHeartIt

Mother Nature sure has a weird sense of humor, especially when it comes to the spotted hyena.

Female spotted hyenas not only dominate over the males in their clan — they're very aggressive and have testosterone — but their clitorises are so large that they're considered pseudo-penises. And those pseudo-penises can grow as long as 7 inches. They pee standing like a male, and are the only female mammal that has no external vaginal opening.

It can be very difficult to distinguish between a male spotted hyena and a female spotted hyena, according to Kay Holekamp of Michigan State University. Holekamp says, "The phalluses on both male and female spotted hyenas are the same length, and differ only in the shape of the tip, which is blunt in the female, but pointed in the male."

In addition to having a fully erectile pseudo-penis, the female has vaginal labia that are folded over, and filled with fat and connective tissue to form what looks a lot like the male's scrotal sac.

Female spotted hyenas are bad-asses, and get so frenzied when feeding on fresh kill that they hardly stop to take a breath between mouthfuls.

Obviously, there's no cooperative feeding or sharing. Female spotted hyenas aren't the warm and cuddly types of animal, though some people swear they make good pets.

The vocal repertoire of the spotted hyena is larger than that of regular hyenas, and for that matter, lions. One of their calls is the famous whoop. If you aren't used to hearing it, it sounds scary and sinister, especially when it happens during the pitch darkness of an African night.

These calls are an effective way for hyenas to communicate with each other, as they live in clans where there's a strict hierarchy lead by the highest ranking female (who gets first choice on any kills).

As for mating, the spotted hyena mating game is truly unique in the animal kingdom.

It starts with the male sniffing or licking the female, or the female's urine. When it seems like the female is interested, the male has to somehow put his penis in her penis. Yes, you read that right.

Obviously, that's impossible, so the female must fold her penis into her body. If the male hyena pisses off the female hyena (and I gather that's not that difficult to do), he will get beaten up pretty badly in the mating process.

Now, the problem with having a pseudo-penis if you're a spotted hyena is that, not only is it used to size each other up, but the female has to give birth through it. Unfortunately, for first time mothers, they often lose 60 percent of their cubs due to suffocation in those tiny birthing tubes, or the mothers themselves can die.

Photo: National Geographic

Photo: imgur

As Holekamp says, "These animals present us with a series of challenging puzzles that beg to be solved. They intrigue us with their appearance, their evolutionary origins, and their social lives."

Hopefully, knowing more about a hyena's pseudo-penis helps you learn about them from sources other than The Lion King. Spotted hyenas are a puzzle, that's for sure.

Or, maybe it's just Mother Nature trying to mess with our heads.