Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cubs and their Lineages

To help us keep track of which hyenas are related to each other, when a hyena has her first litter of cubs, we assign her a lineage. All of her cubs are then named to fit the theme of the lineage. In order to officially assign a cub to a mom, we must see them nursing. Otherwise we are unable to tell for sure.

If we have a cub that we can repeatedly ID and they have not been seen nursing, we assign them a cub name, basically a nickname so that we can record that individuals specific behaviors. One of our hyenas, Burger, was seen nursing from two moms, and so she kept her cub name.

Here are some of my personal favorite lineages.

Clementine, who is a part of the "fruits" lineage:

Hail, who is a part of the "precipitation" lineage:

Dolohov, who is a part of the "Death Eaters" lineage:

Flame lily, who is a part of the "flowers" lineage:

Hola (on right) who is a part of the "Ways to say hello" lineage:

Pumba, who is a part of the "Disney Sidekicks" lineage:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ever seen a lion in a tree?

Last week Lily and I were out on obs in Main Doc territory looking for cognition trial candidates. However that search was quickly derailed when we turned the proverbial corner and found almost half of main doc facing off with 4 nearly full grown sub-adult male lions.
The hyena with the leg is Helios.

Although we came late to the party, I have a hypothesis for what precipitated this interaction. I think that the hyenas had made a kill next to the den, where upon these 4 young up-start lions thought that they could swagger up and swipe an easy meal from the hyenas. What the lions foolishly didn’t realize is that they walked into the literal “hyena’s” den, as almost the entire clan was using dens within a 1km radius of the faceoff. When the hyenas called for back up, a virtual horde of hyenas descended upon them. Main Doc’s beat down was so thorough that the lions kept climbing into trees in order to escape the relentless harassment. 

Unlike leopards, lions aren't nearly as graceful climbers.
He's reflecting on all his life decisions that led him to this point, and is regretting all of them.

In total, we counted 38 hyenas that were at least present during the battle, with possibly more that stayed in the lugga where the lions had been chased in. Often in the media, any lion-hyena interactions have the lions winning the fight and often killing some of the hyenas. So it was great to see the roles reversed and have the hyenas come out on top.

BUAR, the alpha of Main Doc, glows with satisfaction.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Black cub boom!

We have a lot of new moms (and new lineages) in our Main Doc clan! The other day we showed up to a den full of little black cubs running around and playing. Their spots are only just starting to come in so we can't tell any of them apart yet but there are several possibilities for the identities of the cubs pictured below. 

Every mom gets assigned a lineage, which is a theme for the names of all her children. This mnemonic device helps us remember who is related to who. KNOT is a first-time mom and her lineage is nautical words. Her first cub is Bowline. MAA has two new cubs (her third and fourth) and we've named them Daffodil and Tulip. Her lineage is flowers. JOUL is another first-time mom and we've given her the lineage "jewels". Her first cub is Emerald. KNOT (Knot) and JOUL (Joule) are both sisters from the "measurements" lineage. MAA (Maa) is from the languages lineage and is the name of the language of the Maasai people.

Sleeping next to an exhausted mom.

These guys are so little compared to the adults!

Learning how to make friends.

Curiously approaching the car. 

Learning how to paste on shrubs!

Look at that silly little face.

Hyena cubs play with sticks just like dog puppies. 

Too cute. Our job is such hard work dealing with all this cuteness.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Ostrich Love

While on the way to a den session in Pond territory, I came across a two ostriches in mid courtship.

Female ostrich "hen" in mid display to the male.

In general, we don't usually pay much attention to ostriches as hyenas rarely, if ever, hunt them. Most of the time when we see them, they're strutting majestically around in small flocks. Luckily enough I remembered to take a video because what followed was hilarious.

Reading up about ostriches, males establish territories between 2 - 20 sq km (.77 - 7.72 sq mi). After mating with 2-7 hens, he then digs out a pit for the females to lay their eggs in. On average there are about 20 eggs per nest. The females incubate the eggs during the day, while the male incubates them at night, both using their coloration as camouflage. While the ostrich egg is the largest and heaviest egg in the world: 5 cm (5.9 in) long, 13 cm (5.1 in) wide, and 1.4 kilograms (3.1 lb) in weight. They turn our to be the smallest eggs relative to adult body size of any bird species.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Play behavior in spotted hyenas

Play serves a lot of functions for young mammals such as development of motor skills involved in sexual reproduction, hunting, or fighting and development of social bonds or social skills. Most importantly, it's super cute. 

First, the "play face": It's easy to tell apart real aggression from play because hyenas express what I call the "play face". It's the same expression your dog has when it's feeling playful! Play can also be identified by overly exaggerated movements and the absence of aggressive vocalization or aggressive postures. Look for these clues in the photos below!

Object play: Object play is one type of play that involves playing with physical objects, like a stick. Cubs will wrestle with sticks and play catch-me-if-you-can. 

Poop is always great to play with because it smells great. These cubs below are having a poop party and are rolling in fresh elephant poop.

Playing with mom: Mom is one of the first adult hyenas that little cubs play with. Mom is often very tired making the play somewhat one-sided.

Sibling play: Early on, litter-mates show high rates of aggression as they establish dominance. By the time they're brought to the communal den, dominance is usually established and aggression is replaced by play.

Playing with subadults: Subadult hyenas often visit the den and play with the younger cubs. To keep it fair, the subadult often lays on their back and let the younger cubs attack them.

Water play: Even adult hyenas play! Hyenas love to have pool parties and swimming is almost always accompanied by plenty of rough-housing. 

For more photos and videos of hyenas swimming see: "Hyenas LOVE water" and "Splish Splash, I was taking a bath"

Play mounting: This a common behavior seen during play and helps male cubs practice mating behaviors.

Playing with your cohort: These newly den-independent cubs meet up for some play time. 

Playing with cognition apparatuses: Little cubs love to play with the box even if they're too small to open it. Climbing on top of it or inside of it are favorites.

The white tube is hard to resist playing with. This often means several "mistrials" while the hyena grabs the tube and runs around with it (instead of eating the meat from inside). Usually if I'm patient and let them get all their plays out they eventually calm down and participate in the trials like good little hyenas.

Grad student Tracy Montgomery is investigating play as part of her dissertation research. Check out her website HERE!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A day in the life - Graduating

Dear Diary,

Today was a good day. I woke up cuddling my brother King Ghidorah. We began the graduation process a couple of weeks ago, so we don’t sleep at the den anymore. We found a great bush to sleep under, dug a couple of shallow depressions, and fell asleep snuggled close together for warmth. This bush is way better than the leaky one we found our first night alone, when of course it rained. We both woke up hungry and went in search for mom (Eremet). We found her wallowing in a mud pit. King, who was hungrier than I was, threw a squitter tantrum until she came out and let us nurse. King is dominant, so he got to nurse in preferred position, again.

This is my brother King, even though he's dominant, he's still my best friend and I love him.

After nursing and a quick nap, King and I found our favorite play buddy Trebuchet. Treb is older than us and knows all the places the cool older subadults hang out. We followed him around for a bit and played my favorite game, tug-of-war, with an old wildebeest beard. I won, and Treb got grumpy. He said he didn’t have time for us babies and loped off.

This is our good friend Treb. His jaw was broken when he was a cub, so he looks a little funny.

After that, King wanted to see the new babies at the den. Ragnarok and Asgard are the only den-dependent cubs right now, so they get all the attention. I remember when King and I used to get fussed over like that. Now only mom groans at us. Ragnarok and Asgard are still learning their rank and don’t know that King and I are higher up than they are. Sometimes, they accidentally aggress onto us, and I have to put them in their place. King says it’s just part of the learning process, but I think it’s annoying! The babies are really cute though, and I can never stay grumpy for long.

Here is Ragnarok and Asgard, getting groomed by their mom Sawtooth. How could you stay angry at those tiny faces!

After visiting the cubs, we returned to our bush to write in our diaries. Mom says that tonight she will take us hunting, I can’t wait! My favorite is baby wildebeest, but the migration just ended, so we will be lucky to get a Thommy or Impala. Mom is an amazing hunter though, and I can’t wait to be as good as her one day. I bet I’ll be ever better than King, who’s such a momma’s boy he can’t do anything without her.

Anyway, it’s nap time and I’m getting sleepy. I’ll write all about tonight’s hunt tomorrow.

- Drogon 

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science