Hyenas are generally viewed as dangerous, cunning animals that, according to folklore, steal children and rob other animals of their kill. But among their own families, hyenas are actually loyal, lifelong friends. Spotted hyenas live in large groups that are founded on stable social ties between friends, a new study from the journal Ecology Letters reports.
Based on 20 years of field observation, biologists found that hyenas make friends pretty much the same way humans do: they seek out the friends of their friends.
In the Talek clan, a group of spotted hyenas in Kenya that has been studied daily since 1988, hyenas proved to be selective about whom they formed close bonds with. Sharing a contact in common upped the chance of two hyenas associating with each other, forming a kind of friendship triangle. Female-female friendships were slightly more stable than male-male associations, and hyenas of a lower social rank were more likely to make friends than those of a higher rank. Hyenas can be snooty too!
The researchers liken hyena social structures—which remain stable for years—to those of human hunter-gatherer societies, or, more interestingly, to Facebook use, where people tend to cluster in friend groups. Venture capitalists: go ahead and throw money at a Facebook for hyenas.