Monday, May 18, 2015

Research Glamour

Research is not always glamorous. This is a fact I learned recently when Talek Camp needed to send in their U.S. supplies requests. Cue storage tent inventory time.

You would not believe the number of things we need to run this research camp on a daily basis!
And many of these things reside in the storage tent.

Wilson stands proud and tall among our research material.
After emptying the entire tent and cataloging all the various items, we discovered an additional problem. Ant infestation. So, armed with cans of red (danger-color) DOOM (probably the equivalent to: “Spray that kills bugs and gives me cancer in 10 years”), we committed ant genocide.

Ashlei begins the killing process.

What have I done with these hands....

Doom-ed ants
But at least, the terrible parts of this job (the storage tent) are coupled with the amazing parts of this job (hyenas.)

For example:

The other day on obs, Ashlei and I were driving along Horseshoe Lugga when we happened upon a group of excited hyenas. Tails bristling, noses thrust against grass stalks, and the smell of paste in the air were all signs that indicated a border patrol was about to take place. I leaned forward in the driver’s seat, binoculars glued to my eyes as Ashlei took a deep swig of air before the tirade of observation notes began to flow from her mouth.

The beginning of a border patrol

Smell something good? 

Parcheesi and Ted using their noses

So the sniffing and pasting began.

Everyone else follows Ted and Parcheesi's lead

Hyenas typically begin to produce paste around 3 years of age, when they sexually mature, though some can produce some at earlier times (Theis et al 2008). This is also around the time when they begin to participate in territorial defense, like border patrols and clan wars. As you can see from these pictures, Trunks is a juvenile (as she doesn’t know what the heck is going on) and she’s a little over two years old. She seems to be trying to participate in the border patrol, but without much success.

Trunks looking clueless

Trunks finally trying to participate, although not effectively

This sort of olfactory communication can create cohesive bonds between adult female hyenas (Smith and Holekamp 2010). And it can also be effective in establishing territorial borders between clans (Smith and Holekamp 2010). Thus a border patrol is a perfect time for female bonding as well as getting business done (protecting the territory.)

More sniffing...

However, interestingly enough, female participation in border patrols seems to actually correspond more with protecting their potential food sources rather than direct offspring protection from infanticide by other clans or alien hyenas (Boydston et al 2001).

Parcheesi takes a short breather from her territory marking

In conclusion, these shenanigans were quite fun to watch. By the end of their crazed sniffing and wandering, I believe the hyenas were quite exhausted (as were we, so much data!) but we all left satisfied. For us, we watched some incredible interactions and ridiculousness displayed by an excited group of hyenas. For them, they sniffed a billion grass stalks and marked their territory. All in a days work!


Boydston, E. E., Morelli, T. L. & HolekampK. E. (2001) Sex differences in territorial behavior exhibited by the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Ethology. 107:369-385.

Smith, J.E., Van Horn, R.C., Powning, K.S., Cole, A.R., Graham, K.E., Memenis, S.K., & Holekamp, K.E. (2010) Evolutionary forces favoring intragroup coalitions among spotted hyenas and other animals. Behavioral Ecology. 21: 284-303.

Theis, K. R., Heckla, A. L., Verge, J. R. & Holekamp, K. E. (2008) The ontogeny of pasting behavior in free-living spotted hyenas, Crocuta crocuta. In: J. L. Hurst, R.J. Beynon, S.C. Roberts & T. D. Wyatt (Eds.), Chemical Signals in Vertebrates 11. Springer, New York. 179-188.

No comments:

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science