Hyenas are striking creatures, and just as fascinating. They are intelligent and live in complex societies. Hyena clans are ruled by an alpha female, and adult males rank lowest in social status, behind females and juveniles. Now, it seems that recent research shows that being low in the ranks can really stress animals out- in fact, they get so stressed that their DNA is affected. Not good news for male hyenas.
Specifically, it seems that lower-ranking hyenas under more stress have shortened telomeres. Telomeres are the ‘end pieces’ of chromosomes that protect the chromosomes from wearing down during replication.
Scientists aren’t really sure why this happens. In other species, higher levels of stress hormones have been shown to shorten telomere length, so it’s possible that hormones could be a factor. Understanding the effects of stress on wild animals is important for conservation efforts, so it will be interesting to see if researchers can narrow down the causes of telomere shortening in this species. Read more about this research here.
An interesting piece of information about hyenas: did you know that their social status is inherited? Hyena mothers actually pass on their social status to their young. Hyenas tend to get a bad reputation, but if you take some time to read about these amazing animals, you’ll see that they’re really interesting!