the social intelligence of spotted hyenas

by Sebastian Benthall

The best thing I did today was stop by for the beginning of Kay Holekamp‘s talk on “Social Complexity and the Evolution of Intelligence.”

Her work involves researching spotted hyenas.

Spotted hyenas live in clans of about a hundred hyenas, which contain several martilineal kinship groups each. Female hyenas have an observable social hierarchy that is caused by and a cause of survival “fitness”.  Male hyenas migrate to a different clan before reproducing.

This is very similar to the social structure of certain primates, like baboons.  It is nothing like the social structure of cats and dogs (hyenas are somewhere in between the two, closer to cats.)

What’s interesting about the research is that without exception, results about the social cognitive capabilities of primates is, without exception, reproducible in spotted hyenas.

That means that the same capacities for social intelligence has been achieved by multiple species through convergent evolution.