Posts Tagged ‘hyena’

A spotted hyena pseudo-penis. Source for image.

A spotted hyena pseudo-penis. Source for image.

I woke up this morning to check the comments on the blog. I normally do not close comments for older posts, and I often forget about the posts I wrote several years ago.

Some of them have never generated particularly good comments, and this particular one, which is not particularly profound or well-writen, is simply entitled Hyenas are not dogs. They are actually more closely related to cats.

The comments on there are pretty picayune and banal. The post was pretty picayune and banal, so what else would I expect?

Well, when I woke up this morning, I came across this gem, which I have to say is the worst creationist argument I’ve ever seen!

Here it is in all its glory:

Sorry, Hyenas are dogs. I do not care what you say. Evolution is a theory and has never been proven. Hyenas are not cats, and are not related to ferrets, weasels, civets, are any other animal. They are dogs plain and simple. If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck its a duck. Weasels, ferrets, civets, mongoose etc., do not look like dogs. Rest my case. Hyenas are dogs.

I hope this person is just acting a Poe.

It’s hard to tell with these creationists though. It really is.

I am having a hard time reading it without having blood vessels pop out.

First of all a ferret or a weasel is a Caniform Carnivoran. Caniforms are all closely related to dogs, though they are much closer in resemblance to primitive Caniformia than Canids (“the dog family”) are. The fact that they look like mongooses is really quite irrelevant.

Secondly, spotted hyenas look nothing like dogs, and only a really superficial examination of striped and brown hyenas would lead one to believe that they are anything like a dog. I know that the German and Afrikaans-speaking settlers to southern Africa called the brown hyena a “strandwolf.” The term means “beach wolf,” which is in reference to the ubiquity of brown hyenas along the Skeleton Coast, where they scavenge flotsam and jetsam and sometimes hunt fur seal pups. They were called wolves for the same reason that the same people called a giant antelope a moose. The eland antelope species of Africa are actually named after the Dutch/Afrikaans word for moose, which is eland. And it wasn’t just the eland antelope. Gemsbok, a type of oryx, share the same name with the chamois of Europe. Steenbok is the Dutch name for the Alpine Ibex. Rhebok are named for the Dutch/Afrikaans name for the European roe deer.  All of these animals antelope, but none of their European namesakes are.

They also called the spotted hyena the “tiger wolf.”

But people giving animals inappropriate common names is pretty common in just about every language. What we call a moose, the Europeans call an elk. What I call a robin is more closely relate to a European blackbird than to the European robin.

So ignore the names.

Let’s talk phylogeny.

Dogs and hyenas really don’t look that much like each other. All living species of hyenas, except the aardwolf (another misnamed “wolf”), have evolved a bone crushing capability in their jaws that no living dog has. However, in North America, there were once dogs that had this bone crushing capability. These dogs, called the Borophaginae (“bone crushers” or “bone eaters”) live between 36—2.5 million years ago in North America. Some of them were giants, and many were quite well-adapted eating the bones of megafauna.

No living dog is a true bone-eater. They will eat bones, but they will never crush them with efficiency of any species of hyena or one of those Borophagine dogs. (If you want to find out more about the evolution of bone crushing in Borophaginae and hyenas, check out this lecture at the Royal Tyrell Museum. It’s very fascinating.)

Then there is the DNA. We’ve been able to construct phylogenetic trees based upon genetic material. Every study that has examine Carnivoran DNA has placed hyenas with the Feliformia. They are most closely related to the true civets, which is the family Viverridae. They did evolve into something like a dog, and if you watch that lecture at the Royal Tyrell Museum, you’ll see that more primitive forms of hyena actually looked a lot more like dogs than modern ones do.

When phylogenetic trees are drawn from DNA samples, dogs fit with bears and seals (and the walrus and “eared seals”).

Hyenas and dogs are out of two entirely different lineages that split about 42 million years ago.

The fact that they superficially look alike is not evidence of a common designer at all.

The big difference between dogs and spotted hyenas in particular is their social structure. All dog societies, save domestic dogs and some red foxes, are base upon a mated pair in which there are no great size or phenotypical differences between males and females. In spotted hyena societies, the females are larger and have dominance over the males. Status is inherited from mother to daughter, which does not happen in any species of dog.

And one way the females maintain their dominance is through a fluke in their anatomy. Female spotted hyenas have genitalia that strongly resembles a male’s penis, but it’s actually the clitoris. And it’s through this tube that female spotted hyenas urinate, copulate, and give birth through this pseudo-penis. Female hyenas have absolute control over mating because they can move this “device” to prevent copulation. All a female dog can do is sit down with her tail between her legs and growl.

No dog species has this feature.

The only other mammal that has anything like this is the fossa of Madagascar. It is sort of a mongoose that became a cat. The females of this species are born with a pseudo-penis that becomes a “normal” clitoris as the animal mature.

Fossas were once thought to be civets, but like all Malagasy carnivorans, they are now believed to be more closely related to mongooses.

But it really doesn’t matter. Both mongooses and civets are Feliformia, as is the hyena.

And it does point to common ancestry, even if the rest of their relatives do not have this feature.

A spotted hyena is not a dog with a pseudo-penis.

This same argument if taken even further would lead one to believe that a thylacine was nothing more than a wolf with a pouch on it.

Thylacines looked a lot like wolves. (See this page at the Thylacine Museum to see how similar they were). Even trained anatomists have mistaken thylacine remains for those of wolves.

They actually looked much more like dogs than hyenas do.

And they are absolutely not related to dogs at all!

They are most closely related to either the quolls, which look like miniature arboreal thylacines, or to the numbat, which looks like a thylacine that evolved into an anteater. (It eats nothing but termites, but it has the anteater’s long tongue!)

These animals are all marsupials. They share no close ancestors with dogs or anteaters or cat or any placental mamals at all.

The split between placental and marsupial mammals is even more distant– at least 125 million years ago.

Why do they look the same?

Because natural selection required that these animals evolve similar bodies to fill somewhat similar niches. (Though it should be noted that thylacines actually did behave more like big cats than wolves.)

Believe it or not, this dog-like form has evolved several times in the past. Not only do we have the aforementioned dog-like hyenas and the thylacine, but there was once a crocodilian that looked very much like a hairless coyote.

By this creationists’ logic, all these animals would be called dogs.

And they aren’t at all!

Yes, I do know I used scientific terms for female genitalia, which I know creationists like are icky.

But seriously, how dumb can you be!




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The Borophagine dogs are sometimes called “hyena dogs.”  That name gets confusing, for the German name for the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is Hyaenenhund (Hyänenhund), which does mean “hyena dog.”  They were actually thought to be hybrids between dogs and hyenas, which is impossible. Hyenas are Feliform Carnivorans that are derived from civet-like ancestors, which are related to cats.  Dogs are Caniform Carnivorans, and they are more closely related to bears.


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Caracal vs. Hyenas


First, an amazing leap to catch a white stork on the wing, and then she has to fight off the hyenas– who steal her stork supper.

But at least they didn’t eat her kittens.

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I couldn’t find any particulars about this Ethiopian hyena’s situation.

I don’t think it is a fully grown individual, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this hyena had been a pet that had been raised around dogs. Spotted hyenas are known to kill dogs, so these dogs have reason to be wary of it.



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When I first heard of African wild dogs, I thought they were hyenas.

I didn’t know that hyenas weren’t dogs and that there actually were wild dogs in Africa that I might mistake for hyenas.

In this footage, you can see that they are quite different animals.

And they don’t much like each other.


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Striped hyena in Iraq


I’ve never seen one in person, but I didn’t realize how much smaller they were than the spotted species (which I have seen in zoos).




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The spotted hyena is actually more closely related to the domestic cat than any species of dog.

The spotted hyena is actually more closely related to the domestic cat than any species of dog.

There are four species of hyena: the spotted hyena, the striped hyena, the brown hyena, and the aardwolf. All of them appear vaguely doglike, but none of them are that closely related to dogs.

They hyenas closest relatives are civets and genets. In fact, the primitive looking aardwolf, which lives largely on termites, was once thought to be a species of civet. The civets and genets, the mongooses (including the meerkat), the carnivorous genet and mongooselike animals of Madagascar, the African palm civets, and the cats all represent the Feliform suborder to the larger order Carnivora. The hyenas are in this group, which represents this evolutionary relationship.

The other suborder is the Caniform suborder. In this suborder are dogs, bears, the red panda, skunks and stink badgers, the weasels (including mink, otters, badgers, ferrets, the fisher and marten species, and the wolverine),  raccoons (which includes the ringtail, the coati, and the kinkajou), and the pinniped species,  the eared seals, the true seals, and the walrus. (Pinnipeds are often considered in their own order, but the consensus is that they are part of Carnivora.)

Both of these suborders represent the evolutionary relationship between the members of this order. Some these families have been split over time. Once skunks were considered part of the weasel family, but now, they and the Southeast Asian stink badgers are classified together. The red panda has been classified as a bear and raccoon, but now it is included in its own family. It is believed to more closely related to weasel and skunk families than to the bear and raccoon family.

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