hy·​e·​na | \ hī-ˈē-nə How to pronounce hyena (audio) \
plural hyenas also hyena

Definition of hyena

: any of several large strong nocturnal carnivorous Old World mammals (family Hyaenidae) that usually feed as scavengers

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Other Words from hyena

hyenic \ hī-​ˈē-​nik How to pronounce hyena (audio) , -​ˈe-​nik \ adjective

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There are three species of hyena— doglike carnivores found in Asia and Africa. Actually more closely related to cats than to dogs, hyenas have coarse fur, four toes on each foot, long forelegs, claws that do not retract, and enormously strong jaws and teeth. They live alone or in packs and may be active by night or day. Hyenas are noted for scavenging but will also attack live prey. The spotted, or laughing, hyena, whose calls alternately resemble wailing and maniacal laughter, ranges through much of sub-Saharan Africa. Yellowish or grayish with dark spots, it is about 6½ ft (1.8 m) long, including the 12-in (30-cm) tail, and weighs up to 175 lb (80 kg). The hyena has been known to attack people and even to carry off young children.

Examples of hyena in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The nutrients are evident to the naked eye, giving hyena feces a white color. Joshua Learn | Inside Science, ABC News, 15 Aug. 2021 At least one hyena died in the fight, but the lion eventually had to retreat, running to safety in a nearby marsh. Travel + Leisure, 30 July 2021 Susan noted that the couple also expected to receive, along with the elephant trophies, an assortment of skulls and skins from warthogs, impalas, a zebra, and a hyena. Mike Spies, The New Yorker, 29 July 2021 When the night gets cooler, nocturnal activity brings the elusive hyena out of the shadows in this new episode. Los Angeles Times, 26 May 2021 The arrival of big cats—lions and leopards—changes the profile of the waterhole, and the hyenas simply ruin everything: For days after a hyena visit, no one comes at all. John Anderson, WSJ, 18 May 2021 The hyena already had gradually declining mobility managed with a variety of medications, wrote carnivore keeper Heather Vetter. Nienke Onneweer, The Arizona Republic, 26 Mar. 2021 In addition to abundant hyena remains, the remains of groups of large mammals were found in the cave, including aurochs (a large extinct bovine), rhinoceroses, elephants, giant deer, cave bears and wild horses. Doyle Rice, USA TODAY, 10 May 2021 Huckleberry and another hyena, Cahli, arrived in 2015 as the first hyenas ever at the Phoenix Zoo. Nienke Onneweer, The Arizona Republic, 26 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hyena.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of hyena

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for hyena

Middle English hyene, from Latin hyaena, from Greek hyaina, from hys hog — more at sow

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Time Traveler for hyena

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The first known use of hyena was in the 14th century

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Dictionary Entries Near hyena



hyena dog

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Last Updated

20 Aug 2021

Cite this Entry

“Hyena.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyena. Accessed 26 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for hyena



English Language Learners Definition of hyena

: a large animal of Asia and Africa that eats the flesh of dead animals


hy·​e·​na | \ hī-ˈē-nə How to pronounce hyena (audio) \

Kids Definition of hyena

: a large doglike mammal of Asia and Africa that lives on flesh

More from Merriam-Webster on hyena

Nglish: Translation of hyena for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of hyena for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about hyena


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