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Aardwolf vs. Hyena — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Fiza Rafique — Updated on May 9, 2024
The aardwolf, a termite-eating mammal resembling a small striped hyena, contrasts sharply with the true hyenas, which are larger, more aggressive, and known for scavenging and hunting.
Aardwolf vs. Hyena — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Aardwolf and Hyena


Key Differences

The aardwolf is part of the hyena family but differs significantly in diet and behavior. It primarily feeds on termites and other insects, using its long, sticky tongue to capture prey. In contrast, other hyenas, such as the spotted, brown, and striped hyenas, have powerful jaws suited to crushing bones and are known for both scavenging and hunting larger prey.
The aardwolf resembles a small, less robust hyena with distinctive vertical stripes and a mane down its back, which it can raise as a threat display. True hyenas, particularly the spotted hyena, are more robust, lack significant striping, and are equipped with a strong build that helps in their scavenging lifestyle.
Aardwolves are more solitary or live in monogamous pairs, with their interactions mostly limited to mating pairs and their offspring. Other hyenas, especially spotted hyenas, exhibit complex social structures and live in large, matriarchal clans where social interactions are intricate and hierarchical.
Habitat preferences also differ; aardwolves are found primarily in dry, open areas such as savannas and grasslands across Eastern and Southern Africa. They are nocturnal, using the cover of night to avoid predators. In contrast, other hyenas are more adaptable and can inhabit a variety of environments, including savannas, forests, and even mountainous terrains across Africa and into parts of Asia.
Conservation status is another point of divergence. The aardwolf faces fewer threats and is classified as "Least Concern" by conservation authorities due to its widespread range and stable population. Other hyenas, especially the brown hyena, face more significant challenges due to habitat loss and human conflict, leading to their "Near Threatened" status in some regions.

Comparison Chart


Primarily termites and insects
Scavenges and hunts, eats a variety of animal matter

Physical Appearance

Smaller, striped, less robust
Larger, robust, generally solid or subtly patterned coat

Social Structure

Solitary or monogamous pairs
Lives in clans, complex social hierarchies


Dry grasslands and savannas
Diverse, including savannas, forests, mountains

Conservation Status

Least Concern
Varies, with some species like the brown hyena being Near Threatened

Compare with Definitions


Recognized by its distinctive striped pelage and mane.
The aardwolf's mane bristled when it felt threatened.


Exhibits complex social behaviors, especially in clans.
Spotted hyena clans can engage in fierce territorial battles.


Primarily nocturnal in its habits.
The aardwolf hunts for termites at night when predators are less active.


Found across Africa and into parts of Asia.
While most hyenas live in Africa, some striped hyenas are found in Asia.


A small, insectivorous mammal of the hyena family.
The aardwolf uses its sticky tongue to feed on termites.


Includes species like the spotted, brown, and striped hyenas.
The spotted hyena is the largest and most common.


Lives in a monogamous pair.
Aardwolf pairs maintain territories that they defend together.


A carnivorous mammal known for its strong jaws and scavenging habits.
Hyenas can crush bones with their powerful jaws.


Native to Eastern and Southern Africa.
Aardwolves are predominantly found in the savannas of South Africa.


Often misunderstood and characterized as solely scavengers.
Despite their reputation, hyenas are effective hunters.


The aardwolf (Proteles cristata) is an insectivorous mammal, native to East and Southern Africa. Its name means "earth-wolf" in Afrikaans and Dutch.


Hyenas, or hyaenas (from Ancient Greek ὕαινα, hýaina), are feliform carnivoran mammals of the family Hyaenidae . With only four extant species (in three genera), it is the fifth-smallest biological family in the Carnivora and one of the smallest in the class Mammalia.


A black-striped nocturnal African mammal that feeds mainly on termites.


A doglike African mammal with forelimbs that are longer than the hindlimbs and an erect mane. Hyenas are noted as scavengers but most are also effective hunters.


A mammal (Proteles cristatus) of southern and eastern Africa, similar to a hyena but feeding mainly on termites and insect larvae.


Any of several carnivorous mammals of the family Hyaenidae of Africa and Asia, which feed as scavengers and have powerful jaws, relatively short hind limbs, and coarse hair.


A nocturnal, insectivorous mammal, Proteles cristatus, of southern and eastern Africa, related to and resembling the hyena.


Any of the medium-sized to large feliform carnivores of the subfamily Hyaenidae, native to Africa and Asia and noted for the sound similar to laughter which they can make if excited.


Striped hyena of southeast Africa that feeds chiefly on insects


Any carnivorous mammal of the family Hyænidæ, doglike nocturnal mammals of Africa and southern Asia, of which three living species are known. They are large and strong, but cowardly. They feed chiefly on carrion, and are nocturnal in their habits.


Doglike nocturnal mammal of Africa and southern Asia that feeds chiefly on carrion

Common Curiosities

Can aardwolves and other hyenas interbreed?

No, aardwolves and other hyenas cannot interbreed due to significant genetic and behavioral differences.

How do aardwolves communicate?

Aardwolves use scent marking and vocalizations to communicate, especially to establish territory.

Are aardwolves considered dangerous to humans?

Aardwolves are generally shy and reclusive, posing little to no threat to humans.

What is the lifespan of an aardwolf in the wild?

Aardwolves can live up to 10 years in the wild.

What adaptations do aardwolves have for their diet?

Aardwolves have adapted to their termite-based diet with a specialized, sticky tongue and fewer, flattened teeth not suited for bone crushing.

How do hyenas contribute to the ecosystem?

Hyenas play a critical role in their ecosystems as scavengers and predators, helping to control populations of other species and recycle nutrients.

How do hyenas' social structures compare to other animals?

Hyenas' social structures are among the most complex in the animal kingdom, comparable to those of some primates.

What primarily distinguishes an aardwolf from other hyenas?

The aardwolf is unique primarily due to its insectivorous diet, focusing almost exclusively on termites.

What are the major threats to hyenas?

Major threats include habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and in some areas, hunting and persecution.

How are hyenas perceived in different cultures?

Hyenas are often negatively perceived due to myths and superstitions, but they are also respected for their resilience and social complexity in some cultures.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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