Sexual reproduction of hyenas and their complexity


The spotted hyena species (Crocuta crocuta) represents one of the animals where determining their sex is rather complicated. The male apparently has the normal characteristics for a male animal, but the females, in addition to being more aggressive and even larger, have a pseudopening. Which means that the female behaves in a similar way to the male, with a slightly larger size and still with similar external genitalia.

Kay Holekamp, a zoologist at Michigan State University, told BBC World that “females have a fully erectile clitoris, as long as a male’s penis”. The hyena’s vaginal lips are folded in a shape that eventually forms a structure very similar to the male’s scrotal sac, thus helping to make it even more complicated to distinguish a male from a female.

Unlike the other mammals, including other species of hyenas (such as striped and brown), the spotted female does not have an external vaginal opening, when it is time to give birth after a gestation period of 110 days, the back of the pseudopening is torn and a scar of pink color is discovered on the skin of the animal.

Thus, this very similar structure between the male and the female, led for a long time, the hyenas were considered hermaphrodite animals (animals that have both sexes).
“Errors like this were very common until the 1980s until a scientist found a way to differentiate (the male from the female) through the shape of the end of the penis”, Holekamp told the BBC. The tip of the female’s psudopening is less punctured than that of the male.

Throughout the mating period, the male has a complicated task to be able to penetrate the clitoris of the female, since this part of the female is prickly (when erect) it is necessary that the male be calm and precise so that it can achieve its objectives. This has to be able to insert your genital organ into the hole of the clitoris, which in some chaos is larger than the penis of the male. Holekamp explained to LiveScience that “males need to practice. After a few months of training, they can line up without problems”.

This particular characteristic of hyenas (females) is also a way to prevent them from being “raped” and still allows the animal to choose which male to mate with.