Tag Archives: reproduction

The Hyena – nature’s feminist

I was on Robbie Cheadle’s blog recently and was intrigued when she described some of Southern Africa’s wild life as ‘the Big Five’ and ‘the Ugly Five’! I had to ask, right? Well, here’s what Robbie said.

Robbie: The “Ugly Five”, comprising of the warthog, hyena, wildebeest, marabou stork, and vulture, aren’t as well known, but also play an important role in the southern African eco systems. The hyena, marabou stork, and vulture are all scavengers who help ‘clean up’ the bushveld.

One of the most interesting of the “Ugly Five” is the hyena which is one of the most misunderstood and persecuted animals in history. Throughout history, hyenas have been regarded as vermin and a liability to local communities. Disney’s movie, The Lion King, also perpetrated the myth of hyenas as despicable animals.

Me: Having watched The Lion King many times when the Offspring was little, I knew that the hyenas were depicted as evil henchmen to Mufasa, the uber villain of the story, so ugly and despicable. But what did Robbie mean about them being ‘misunderstood’?

Robbie: The reality is that hyenas are very interesting creatures with surprising social behaviours. They also play an important role in the ecosystem.

The spotted hyena is the most common hyena in sub-Saharan Africa and, while not yet threatened, their populations are declining. Historically, they lived in groups called clans, comprising of up to eighty animals. Currently, spotted hyenas live in clans of between ten and forty individuals in the game reserves and national parks of southern Africa. Hyena clans are led by a dominant female and all females are dominant over the males. The alpha male has a lower status in the clan than the lowest ranked female.

Me: Whoa! I knew that in a pride of lions, it’s actually the females that do the bulk of the hunting, but the male is definitely the alpha. So why are hyenas so different? You will not believe the answer!

Robbie: The genitalia of the female hyena closely resembles that of the male. The clitoris is shaped and positioned like a penis, it is a pseudo-penis, and it can become erect. The female has no external vaginal opening as the labia are fused to form a pseudo-scrotum.

Female hyenas chose their mate, and the males perform a bowing display to females before mating. Due to the females pseudo-penis, mating is difficult and males cannot force themselves onto females.

Female hyenas have three times more testosterone than males and this results in an unusual and risky labour process. Birth takes place through the pseudo-scrotum and the birth canal is approximately one inch across. Consequently, suffocation in the birth canal is common for hyena cubs and the mortality rate for first-time mothers is high.

Me: Biology and genetics are my passions so I was astounded to learn just how different hyenas really are from most other mammals. Why do female hyena have three times more testosterone than the males? And why do the males have so much less?

It’s a puzzle. Evolution usually favours mutations that lead to greater reproduction, yet amongst hyenas, their biology is actually counter survival: less offspring leads to a greater chance that the whole species could die out.

Luckily, the differences don’t stop with reproduction.

Robbie: Hyenas have a reputation for being scavengers that feed on leftovers from other carnivores kills. While it is true that hyenas are opportunistic feeders, they are also excellent hunters and directly kill between 60% and 95% of their food.

Spotted hyenas are able to eat and digest all parts of their prey except for the hair, hooves and keratin sheaths of antelope horns. Spotted hyenas also have an incredibly strong bite force which can break the leg bones of a giraffe. Their ability to break and digest bones gives them a food source opportunity that isn’t available to other animals.

Me: Ah hah! So what the hyena loses in reproductive capability, it gains back in its ability to find food where other great predators can’t. And make no mistake, they are predators.

Robbie: Hyenas have a reputation for laughing. If you hear a hyena laughing near by you in the bush, RUN! The hyena laughs to signal excitement that it has found food. The pitch of their laugh indicates their status in the clan.

Me: I have to admit, the bit about the hyena laughing to signal that it has found food does send shivers down my spine. The thought of being caught and having my bones cracked by those incredibly strong jaws is not…pleasant. My respect for hyenas has gone up…a lot!

This is a photo that Robbie sent me:

Photo credit: Spotted hyena eating a dead buffalo (that died of natural causes) in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Picture by Robbie Cheadle

I have no idea how Robbie took that photo, but my respect for her and her hyenas has skyrocketed. I always knew she could write, but since doing this post, I’ve come to realise just how knowledgeable she really is.

And creative.

In her latest book, ‘Lion Scream, Syllabic Poetry About Southern African Wildlife’, Robbie combines an amazing knowledge of the native fauna of her homeland with a style of poetry that touches the heart as well as the head.

This is one of the poems from the book, and it’s about hyenas, of course!

Nature’s Trick

My gender is obscure

One of nature’s tricks

I have the same appendages as my mate

I am also bigger

Much more aggressive


Birthing is difficult

My babies – stillborn

After suffocating in my birth canal

Only the strong survive

To continue my line


When my pack makes a kill

I get my share first

When all females have fed, and

then our offspring

Then, and only then

Do the males partake

‘Lion Scream’ also contains some fabulous info. about the ‘Big Five’:

‘The “Big Five” group of African animals is a well-known concept among lovers of African wildlife. Who doesn’t know the lion, buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant, and leopard? The “Big Five” is so well known, there is even a fondant version which live in the Chocolate Land Zoo.’

The Fondant Five from Sir Chocolate and the Fondant Five story and cookbook, by Robbie Cheadle

And yes, Robbie did sculpt all of those gorgeous beasts from fondant [icing]!

For those who don’t know, Robbie Cheadle is an award-winning, bestselling author, who has published thirteen children’s book and three poetry books. Her work has also appeared in poetry and short story anthologies.

Robbie also has two novels published under the name of Roberta Eaton Cheadle and has horror, paranormal, and fantasy short stories featured in several anthologies under this name.

The ten Sir Chocolate children’s picture books, co-authored by Robbie and Michael Cheadle, are written in sweet, short rhymes which are easy for young children to follow and are illustrated with pictures of delicious cakes and cake decorations. Each book also includes simple recipes or biscuit art directions which children can make under adult supervision.

Robbie’s blog includes recipes, fondant and cake artwork, poetry, and book reviews.

You can also find Robbie on her website, Youtube channel, Goodreads, and Twitter. Or why not go straight to her Amazon page to check out her books?

My thanks to Robbie for sharing her amazing knowledge of hyenas. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and I know I’ve learned a lot as well. I hope you enjoy it too. 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone,

Climate Change made easy

One of the very first posts I ever published on Meeka’s Mind was this one. It hit the internet on December 29, 2011 and received two likes and two comments.

In that post I wrote:

‘…ordinary people like you and me are at the top of the list. We don’t understand the science – no surprise there – so we only know what the media choose to tell us, and the media are having a field day playing both sides against the middle.’

Absolutely nothing has changed since 2011. In fact, things have gone from bad to worse with idiots in the Federal government professing their undying love of coal on the floor of parliament:

As for the mainstream media, it continues to capitalise on the confusion by giving climate change deniers equal air time with genuine scientists. Sadly, even when the scientists do get to put their case to the general public, they lack the communication skills to present the data in a way non-scientists can understand. That’s why some deniers can get away with saying:

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just natural cycles.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just sun spots.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but humans aren’t to blame.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but technology will fix it.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s an act of God or Nature, and there’s nothing we can do.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s the fault of industry and there’s nothing I can do about it.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but trying to fix it is too hard and we’ll all give up our comforts, so let’s just pray for a miracle.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but it’s just the UN spruiking for more funding.’

‘Yes, things are getting warmer, but its just scientists scrambling for more research grants.’

I could go on, but I think you get my drift. Like all forms of manipulation, the most effective denials are the ones based on a tiny kernel of truth. Sifting the truth from the lie, however, requires the skills of a people person, someone who knows what they’re talking about but can communicate it in an easy to understand way.

One such communicator is my friend, Yorgos. We met on Twitter [@YorgosKC] but he also has a blog on WordPress and publishes novels on Wattpad. As an Indie author, Yorgos really does know how to communicate, but perhaps the most amazing thing about him is that English is not his mother tongue. I wish I could write as well in a second language!

Anyway, Yorgos commented on my recent reblog about climate change, busting climate change myths left, right and centre. The chart he refers to is on the original post which you can find here. Yorgos’ reply was so good I simply had to reproduce it here:

‘I got scared about it [climate change] a few years ago when I was in uni, studying physics and in “physics of atmosphere” we’ve been learning (to write it at exams to pass the lesson, mind you!) “We currently burn a year as much oxygen as earth created in a thousand years, which is not alarming, at all”. This, to me, was alarming. To save you the maths, it actually means, even if we forget this oxygen turns into carbon dioxide (which cause the global warming), human’s future is bound to be shorter than human’s past. And we were thought to consider that as “not alarming”. If “we”, the “specialists” think that, try to convince the ones that don’t know any better.
Now, to make a few things clear, if I may, global warming would have happened even if humans had never existed. But, as the chart shows, in a much slower pace. Also, the Sun’s regular 11-year circle raise of activity affects Earth’s temperature. But right now, Sun’s activity is at its lowest. Therefore, 2019 – if the Sun was the reason – would have been one of the coolest years of this decade. So, no, don’t blame the Sun. If you don’t believe me, check SOHO’s photos and you’ll see there are no spots on the Sun (the more the spots the hotter the Sun is). I’m mentioning this, because I’ve heard more than a few saying, “it’s the Sun. We can’t do anything!” It’s not! Furthermore, immigration to Mars (or anywhere, if that matters) is something that is not feasible, and won’t be feasible for centuries, but let’s say, 50 years. So, no, this isn’t a solution.
Finally, Earth is not in any danger. This change that affects less than 32km ring (including Troposphere) of a 16,400km radius sphere (including the whole atmosphere) doesn’t bother Earth, at all. But! It affects nature and life on Earth. And this nature, indeed, has its ways of “reducing damage” but doesn’t care about a few species, like humans. It won’t protect us, by all costs. Cockroaches and plants are enough for it. Also, neither a God, nor an alien super-civilization cares to save us. So, we should not expect a miraculous solution.
So, then “It’s the governments”. Right. That’s true, I won’t deny that, but, it’s also in the hands of each of us. Do you leave your router on while sleeping? Do you leave other devices on stand-by, instead of turning them off? Do you leave lights on, when you don’t need them? Do you use your car, unnecessarily often? These and so many other things we do daily, without giving them a second thought, are translated in raise of carbon dioxide (why the electricity part? because of the factories creating it). And you may think, “what difference will it make if I don’t do that?” A small one, true. But if all people do that it will make a huge one. So, it’s a start. So, yes, the governments and the industries should adjust, but this isn’t in my hand, but there are things that are in my hand. And your hands, too, so, let’s do what we can do.
That’s all. Sorry for the long, boring reply. Thank you for the very interesting post. And let me correct a fact on the chart: There are still Pokemons in North America 😁’

The one thing I’d like to add to Yorgos’ comment is a little bit about the time factor. During the normal warming and cooling cycles of the the planet, change happens very slowly, literally over thousands of years. This slow pace of change allows life on Earth to adapt to the changing environment, but this adaptation isn’t a conscious thing. Animals don’t look up and go ‘Ut oh, things are getting colder/hotter, I’d better start growing a longer/short coat’.

No. Adaptation to change in the environment happens at the species level…if the particular species is lucky. That luck depends on two main things:

  1. Firstly, individuals in the species have to be born with small mutations that make them better suited to the changing environment. For example, if it’s getting colder, a mutation that made an animal’s undercoat thicker would help it survive the cold better. If it survives better, there’s a chance it’ll have a better chance of reproducing and passing the helpful mutation to the next generation. As more individuals are born with this helpful mutation, they are more likely to meet and interbreed. If this happens, there is a chance that the mutation may become stronger. In time, there’s a chance that this new, helpful mutation will spread throughout the entire population, making the whole species better able to survive the cold.
  2. But spreading a helpful mutation through an entire population requires time. This is why cockroaches [and insects in general] possess a huge advantage over mammals like homo sapiens. Unlike us, all insects reproduce very, very quickly.

The following article talks about the four main types of cockroaches found in North America – German, American, Oriental and brown-banded:


I found this factoid particularly disturbing:

‘German cockroaches mature so fast that only a few weeks after hatching, they’re ready to make babies of their own. When you take all the different generations into consideration, one female can be the matriarch of up to 35,000 roaches.’

Now, let’s imagine that one of those German cockroaches is born with a mutation that makes it immune to cockroache bait. If it survives to adulthood and reproduces, it could make all the cockroaches in its area immune to the bait too. If we substitute ‘tolerance to CO2’ or ‘tolerance to heat’ for ‘tolerance to bait’, you can see how in a very short space of time, all the cockroaches could become better at surviving climate change.

Humans do adapt to environments too, but as it takes a minimum of 15 years for us to reproduce just once, spreading a helpful mutation through the entire population might take millions of years. When natural cycles happen very, very slowly, humans have a chance to adapt. When those same cycles happen quickly, as is happening now, we haven’t got a prayer of changing ourselves quickly enough to survive in the new environment. Genetically modified humans might survive, but they’ll be few and the modification may have unintended side effects that stop them from reproducing effectively.

Reading back over what I just wrote, I can see GM humans as the basis for an interesting sci-fi story, but that’s all it would be, a story. In the real world, technology will create domes and underground cities and all sorts of high-tech ways of adapting to the changes happening outside. But who will get to live in those rather large ‘bunkers’?

I don’t think I’m being cynical when I say that only the rich will get to survive climate change long term. For the rest of us, life will simply become more and more unbearable until one day it finally stops.

So… Do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend climate change is not happening? Do we pray for a ‘miracle’? Or do we pull up our big girl pants and do something?

Before you make up your mind, one way or the other, I’d like to leave you with a thought about the power of the ‘small’. The following quote comes from:


‘…mobile carriers increase their profits by inserting that annoying instructional message that’s played after your personal greeting but before the beep when you get someone’s voice mail.’

Because we pay for mobile phone use by the second, those ‘instructional messages’ cost us time which translates into dollars, every single time. From the same article:

‘..If Verizon’s 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a weekday, Verizon rakes in about $620 million a year…’

Just from a few seconds worth of wasted time multiplied by millions of times… Wow…

So don’t ever think that little things don’t add up, and up and UP. We have power; we just need to work together to make it count.




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