In spotted hyena society, adult males are ranked at the very bottom of the clan hierarchy. That means that when it comes time to find a date, the males have A LOT of work to do to impress a female. Male hyenas are generally terrified of female hyenas, and the prospect of having to approach – let alone court – a female can elicit actual shivers of fear. Here are some of the tried-and-true tactics in a male hyena’s dating arsenal:
Approach/avoid behavior: A male hyena approaches a female (who is usually ignoring him), and once he gets close to her, he backs off a few meters as if suddenly startled. He often repeats this over and over for minutes at a time, sometimes never even getting close enough to sniff or groom the female. As Leslie described in an earlier blog post, the male seems to be thinking, "I want you...but I'm scared of you...but you're cute....but also dangerous..."
The present: This is when a male hyena stretches his body out in front of the female’s nose, letting (or occasionally forcing) her to sniff his side and genitalia. In this case, he might be too scared to engage in the proper hyena greet, which involves lifting his back leg for the female hyena to sniff. This would leave him in the precarious position of standing on only three legs, and when interacting with a female hyena, he wants to be prepared for anything!
Grooming foreleg: Gotta keep those legs sparkling and clean! Female humans are expected to shave their legs, and male hyenas are expected to groom theirs.
Pawing the ground: Hyenas have scent glands between the toes of their front feet, and a male hyena will paw the ground in front of a female to deposit his sexy-smelling scent where she might notice it.
Bowing: This is my favorite hyena courtship behavior, and I recommend it for males of all species. A hyena male lifts one foreleg and crosses it over the other while facing the female. It is ridiculously adorable, especially when she completely ignores him.
|Kyoto bowing for Pan, who is sacked out in a bush.|
|So, so cute!!|
And finally, the part you’ve all been waiting for…hyena sex.
In spotted hyena mating, a female hyena retracts her pseudo-penis into her abdomen and stands as still as possible, while the male stands on his hind legs and clasps her sides with his front paws for balance. He then flips his erect penis towards her abdomen, squatting and hopping around on his back legs as he tries to find the correct position. After his penis penetrates her urogenital canal (intromission), he thrusts upwards until ejaculation. His penis usually swells up during mating, preventing him from pulling out, so he then rests his head on her back for a bit and they relax before separating.
Last week, I was lucky enough to see a mating while driving around in the area between Sarova Lodge and Sekenani Gate. Matings are super rare for us observers to see because they usually occur on the outskirts of the territory. These hyenas, however, were exhibitionists, and did it right by the road!
|In the "thrust" of the action.|
|Post-copulation rest and cuddle time.|
For another rare mating account, see Meg's previous blog post on a special moment between Agent Orange (female) and Euclid (male) in Serena's Happy Zebra clan!