Saturday, July 4, 2009

Giving birth though a soda straw: ouch!!

One of the most mysterious and bizarre characteristics of the spotted hyena is the heavily masculinized genitalia of the female. Here you can see adult female Gucchi (wearing the radio collar) investigating the genitalia of adult female Carter (who has her butt toward the camera and her tail raised) during a greeting ceremony at the den (that's Gucchi's cub, Alfredo, scratching himself while his mom greets). Notice that Carter has a male-like pseudoscrotum and a male-like phallus. It is not known why female spotted hyenas sport such unusual genitalia. However, one of the most amazing things about all this, in my opinion, is that the female is obliged to give birth through that narrow tube. Cubs weigh just over two pounds at birth, so imagine introducing a baby that size to the world via that route. It has GOT to hurt! In fact, the female's pseudopenis tears when she bears her first litter, and this natural episiotomy leaves a neat strip of pink scar tissue on the posterior surface (see blow-up). Thus, even if her first cubs die before we can ever see them, we can tell that a young adult female has given birth based on the presence of that scar tissue.


Ihsan said...


I'm Ihsan from Indonesia, I'm looking for hyena information specifically about hyena skull. Here in Indonesia, some of us, including me, use it as a medicine. I would like to know whether possible to obtain natural hyena skull, if any, from you. Glad to hear your response.Many thanks.

Kay Holekamp said...

Hi Ihsan,
No I'm afraid we have no hyena skulls available. They have all been placed in various museum collections. Just out of curiosity, what sort of medical problem is the hyena skull medicine supposed to cure?

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