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

Did You Know?

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 Huckleberry and another hyena, Cahli, arrived in 2015 as the first hyenas ever at the Phoenix Zoo. Nienke Onneweer, The Arizona Republic, "Phoenix Zoo says it euthanized 27-year-old hyena Huckleberry due to declining mobility," 26 Mar. 2021 What is the difference between a hyena and a human? Merve Emre, The New Yorker, "How Leonora Carrington Feminized Surrealism," 21 Dec. 2020 And a Tyson mechanic named Jose Ayala, who was known for his hyena-like laugh, was on a ventilator in critical condition. Michael Grabell, ProPublica, "As COVID-19 Ravaged This Iowa City, Officials Discovered Meatpacking Executives Were the Ones in Charge," 21 Dec. 2020 Multiple families exist within a larger hyena group, with the royals at the top and each family ranked for certain levels of access to food and resources. Brian Handwerk, National Geographic, "How animals choose their leaders, from brute force to democracy," 22 Oct. 2020 Archaeologist Sally Hoare points out that predators were bigger, like Pachycrocuta, the largest hyena to ever walk the earth, and Agriotherium, a carnivorous bear nearly twice the size of a lion. Bridget Alex, Smithsonian Magazine, "Monkeys’ Attraction to Burned Grasslands May Offer Clues to Human Ancestors’ Mastery of Fire," 10 Aug. 2020 Allison rescued big cats from a man in Texas who kept a lion and a hyena in his backyard behind a shooting range. Allie Morris, Dallas News, "Curious Texas: Netflix series ‘Tiger King’ showcased the drama and entertainment of the big cat world," 27 May 2020 Oh, to be on a wildlife reserve in Zimbabwe, living among cheetahs and hyenas and gazing up every night at a wild, watercolor sky. Aj Willingham, CNN, "All The Good Stuff that happened this week," 24 Apr. 2020 At the time, neighbors claimed to reporters and to law enforcement officials that Mr. Yates had bear cubs, Rottweilers, rabbits, hyenas, monkeys, snakes, a llama, a tarantula and even a young lion. Corey Kilgannon, New York Times, "A 425-Pound Tiger Living in a Harlem Apartment? Yes, It Happened," 18 Apr. 2020

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

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for hyena

Last Updated

10 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Hyena.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hyena. Accessed 12 Apr. 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

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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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