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Keywords:

  • intersexual aggression;
  • spotted hyena;
  • Crocuta;
  • baiting

Abstract

Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) are gregarious carnivores. The females are socially dominant to males, and adult males rarely direct aggression toward adult females. This study analyzed all cases in which adult immigrant males behaved aggressively toward adult females in a large population of free-living hyenas in Kenya, observed for 11 years. Our goals were to describe the conditions under which male attacks on females occur, and address possible adaptive functions. Most aggression directed by adult immigrant males against females occurred when coalitions of two or more males attacked a single adult female, who typically responded by defending herself and fighting back. Male aggression against females frequently occurred at sites of ungulate kills, but males never behaved aggressively toward females over food, and all male attacks on females were unprovoked. Although no mounting or other copulatory behaviors ever occurred during or immediately after an attack, the number of male attacks on females peaked around the time of conception. Daily rates at which males attacked females did not vary with female social rank. However, daily attack rates did vary significantly with female reproductive state, and the highest rates of male attack on females were observed during the two stages of the reproductive cycle during which females were most likely to conceive litters. The adaptive significance of male aggression against females in this species remains unknown, but a tight association between male attacks on females and a female's time of conception provides strong evidence of some role for male aggression in hyena sexual behavior. In particular, our data are consistent with hypotheses suggesting that male aggression toward females in this species either serves to inform females about male fitness or represents sexual harassment. Aggr. Behav. 29:457–474, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.