; suborder Fissipedia, superfamily Feloidea)
A family of carnivores whose ancestors evolved rapidly from the Viverridae (civets) in late Miocene times. They are the youngest feloids and displaced the last hyaenodont (Hyaenodontidae) from the scavenging niche, and although today they are restricted to the Old World, one form entered N. America in the early Pleistocene. Hyenas possess heavy, blunt teeth and strong jaws, allowing them to crush bones and so to live partly by scavenging. The aardwolf (Proteles cristatus) resembles a small hyena superficially, and is also descended from the viverrid group, but it feeds mainly on insects and has weaker jaws and fewer teeth. Hyaenids have hind limbs that are shorter than the fore limbs, non-retractile claws, a digitigrade gait, and long skulls. They are distributed widely in Africa and southern Asia as far east as India. Apart from Proteles there are two or three genera: the spotted hyena (Crocuta) and the striped and brown hyenas (Hyaena); many authors now place the brown hyena in its own genus (Parahyaena).
Subjects: Zoology and Animal Sciences.