Spotted hyenas live in very complex societies that are remarkably similar to the societies of some Old-World primates, such as baboons and vervet monkeys. They also live in fission-fusion societies, where all individuals in a social group defend a communal territory, but are rarely all found together in the same place at the same time. Instead, individuals in fission-fusion social groups travel, rest and forage in subgroups that change frequently in both their size and composition. We therefore expect that if intelligence evolved to deal with social challenges, that spotted hyenas should exhibit comparable cognitive abilities to those of other species with similar social systems. Dr. Benson-Amram conducted playback experiments to determine whether spotted hyenas count the number of intruders they encounter in their territory and whether they only engage opponents when they outnumber them. She investigated whether this ability of hyenas was similar to that seen in lions and chimpanzees, which both live in fission-fusion societies. This work was published in the journal Animal Behaviour (see publications) and was done in collaboration with Dr. Kay Holekamp (Michigan State University).
This work is featured in BBC's Talk to the Animals.
- 2011. Numerical assessment and individual call discrimination by wild spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta). Animal Behaviour, 82, 743-752 (pdf)