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Pleistocene Cave Hyena - Crocuta crocuta spelaea
Pleistocene Cave Hyena - Crocuta crocuta spelaea

[Image: 800px-Cave_hyena.jpg]

Fossil range: Middle to Late Pleistocene 

Scientific classification 
Kingdom: Animalia 
Phylum: Chordata 
Class: Mammalia 
Order: Carnivora 
Family: Hyaenidae 
Genus: Crocuta 
Species: Crocuta crocuta 
Subspecies: Crocuta crocuta spelaea

The Cave Hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea) is an extinct subspecies of spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) native to Eurasia, ranging from Northern China to Spain and into the British Isles. Though originally described as a separate species from the spotted hyena due to large differences in fore and hind extremities, genetic analysis indicates no sizeable differences in DNA between Pleistocene cave hyena and modern day spotted hyena populations. It is known from a range of fossils and prehistoric cave art. With the decline of grasslands 12,500 years ago, Europe experienced a massive loss of lowland habitats favoured by cave hyenas, and a corresponding increase in mixed woodlands. Cave hyenas, under these circumstances, would have been outcompeted by wolves and humans which were as much at home in forests as in open lands, and in highlands as in lowlands. Cave hyena populations began to shrink after roughly 20,000 years ago, completely disappearing from Western Europe between 14-11,000 years ago, and earlier in some areas.

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The main distinction between the spotted hyena and the cave hyena is grounded on different lengths of the hind and fore limb bones. The humerus and femur are longer in the cave hyena, indicating an adaptation to a different habitat to that of the spotted hyena. It is unknown if they showed the same sexual dimorphism of the spotted hyena. It has been estimated that they weighed 102 kg (225 lbs).
Little is known of their social habits. It is widely accepted that they used caves as dens, although sites in the open-air are also known. There is no indication of cave hyenas living in large clans or on a more solitary basis, though large clans are not considered likely in their Pleistocene habitat.

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Dietary habits
Like modern hyenas, cave hyenas accumulated the bones and horns of their food at den sites for later consumption or for play, though it is unknown if the discovered remains were from scavenged or killed animals. Studies of animal remains in hyena den sites in the Bohemian Karst show that Przewalski's Horses were apparently their most common prey, which amounted to 16-51% of the cave hyena's prey. Their largest prey was the woolly rhinoceros, the bones and skulls of which have been found in many hyena den sites. In some regions, rhino remains can comprise 25-30% of the total prey bone material in den sites. Reindeer were another important food source, as they made up 7-15% of the cave hyena's prey. The Steppe Wisent made up only 1-6% of the cave hyena's prey. Red deer only comprised 3% of found remains, with Irish elk being even rarer. The remains of alpine fauna including chamois and ibex are absent in some places, representing less than 3% of the prey, possibly due to their greater fragility. There is evidence that cave hyenas occasionally practiced cannibalism.

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Interspecific predatory relationships
Cave hyenas were highly successful predators, and were especially numerous in Northeast Asia, where it seems they outcompeted most other predators. This was deduced from the relative scarcity of cave lioncave bear and wolf remains in areas where they are sympatric with hyenas.
Cave hyenas are thought to be responsible for the dis-articulation and destruction of some cave bear skeletons. Such large carcasses were an optimal food resource for the hyenas, especially at the end of the winter, when food was scarce.
Cave hyenas were sympatric with gray wolves in Italy. Unlike the hyenas, which preferentially preyed on lowland animals such as horses, wolves relied more on smaller, slope-dwelling prey such as ibex and roe deer, thus minimizing competition. Wolves and cave hyenas seem to display negative abundance relations over time, with wolf populations expanding their ranges as hyenas disappeared. 

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Interactions with hominids
Kills partially processed by Neanderthal and then by cave hyena indicate that hyena would occasionally steal Neanderthal kills, and cave hyena and Neanderthal both competed for cave sites. Many caves show alternating occupations of hyenas and Neanderthals. Numerous hominid bones, including Neanderthal, have also been found partially consumed by cave hyena. Modern humans also lived alongside cave hyena, and may have had similar interaction with them. Some paleontologists believe that competition and predation by cave hyenas in Siberia was a significant factor in delaying human colonization of Alaska. Cave hyenas may have occasionally stolen human kills, or entered campsites to drag off the young and weak, much like modern spotted hyenas in Africa. The oldest Alaskan human remains coincide with roughly the same time cave hyenas became extinct, leading certain paleontologists to deduce that hyena predation was what prevented humans from crossing the Bering strait earlier.
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The Last Lions
A new view of predators that once roamed Central Europe

By Jacy Meyer 
For The Prague Post
August 15th, 2007 issue 

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Illustration by George "Rinaldino" Teich

During the last ice age, 24,000 to 100,000 years ago, Prague looked much like Siberia does today. Reindeers, wooly mammoths, hyenas and cave bears roamed the lands. There were lions as well, though exactly what sort of lions has become a matter of debate.
Almost since paleontologists started digging up bones in Central Europe, it was believed the lions here lived in caves. Scientists assumed this was the case because the first lion bones, skulls and teeth were discovered in caves, including those around Prague and Beroun. 
But in a recently published paper, Dr. Cajus Diedrich, a German paleontologist, archeozoologist and geologist, says it’s not true. The reason lion bones were found in caves, he maintains, is because hyenas brought them there.
“Hyenas were more or less overlooked,” explains Diedrich. “No one liked them, so no one really discussed the possibility that lions could have been imported to the caves by other carnivores. Scientists believed lions were the kings, not to be attacked — which is wrong.”
Panthera leo spelaea is the Latin name for the cave lion. But Diedrich says that animal never existed.
“Hyenas scavenged the lions outside and then brought them to the caves,” Diedrich says. If lions inhabited the caves, he argues, there would be more bones (only two to three percent of the bones recovered in caves are from lions), along with other evidence, such as lion fecal matter. The fact that lion bones often bear chew marks adds further weight to the idea they did not die natural deaths.
“The late ice-age lions lived like modern lions,” Diedrich says. “They lived in clans, they gave birth in the open landscape, such as modern ones do, and they hunted all kinds of large animals.”
And some animals, like hyenas, hunted lions.
“The lions were in strong conflicts with hyenas,” Diedrich says. “This is the most important message, because it explains why lion bones are in hyena den caves all over Europe.”

Bones of contention
Diedrich first got the idea for his theory in 2004.
“I was cleaning a basement in a German museum and a hyena skull with jaws looked into my face,” he says. “I was confused, because I knew cave bears well, and also lions a little bit at that time. But it was a hyena skull, found in 1906.”
Tracking down more bones from German caves, Diedrich found more than 3,000 from what he says is one of the most important hyena dens in Central Europe. After those were lion bones that had been chewed. He also spent time at the National Museum in Prague, where, after sorting through 50,000 bones, the picture became clearer.
“I saw that, always in hyena caves, lion bones and even complete skeletons were found,” he says. “I remembered the situation in Germany and click — it was the same coincidence.”
Diedrich has been a bone-lover ever since he began collecting fossils at the age of 8. One thing that separates him from many of his peers is his practice of using present-day animals to help research his ice-age subjects.
“When I have a bone, I compare it to a modern animal,” he says. “Many animals that are extinct in Bohemia today are alive elsewhere — reindeer, wolverines, arctic foxes ... though the wooly mammoth is tough.”
Once the bones are identified, Diedrich then needs to determine how old they are. There are three different dating methods, all with limitations. The primary one is radio carbon analysis, which is expensive and can be done only if the bone is less than 40,000 years old. The second way is to compare the sample bone with others found near it, which may reveal whether the period was warm or cold. But, if the animal lived at the end of a major climactic period, the dating could be off by as much as 100,000–200,000 years. The third method is to study the site where the bone was found, with deeper layers of dirt getting progressively older — if they were deposited evenly.
“We have a lion’s skull [near] a reindeer, but it could be one [glacial period] older, and so 100,000 years older than you think,” Diedrich says. “Plus, older excavations were done with pickaxes and shovels, so there was a lot of damage that affects all three methods.”

Snakes and porcupines

Diedrich’s recent paper on lions, published in the Czech Geological Survey’s Bulletin of Geosciences, represents only one facet of his work with Central European fossils.
“I will try to publish at least one paper about the most famous hyena population of Srbsko, and from the same site a paper about the last wolverines of Bohemia,” he says. “I also have some 25-million-year-old snakes and porcupines in the works, one of the biggest discoveries in the Bohemian karst.
”Diedrich plans to present his latest findings at a cave-bear symposium in Brno, south Moravia, this September. Meanwhile, he’s at work on another project: a study of “reptile tracks from pre-dinosaur times in Europe,” with the support of a German foundation, the Deutsche Forschungs-Gemeinschaft.
“These 240-million-year-old reptile ‘track ways’ were produced all over Central Europe in tidal flats,” he says. “No one expected tracks in marine sediments, especially where the daily tide came and went.”
As for the Bohemian lions, Diedrich says they were most likely victims of climate change, which killed off a lot of vegetation. With their food source gone, many animals died, affecting other animals further up the food chain.
The story, Diedrich says, is all in the bones, and he hopes to bring it to a much wider audience.
“I want to bring the bones out of the basements [of museums] and show them in a modern, attractive way,” he says. “I don’t want to do it for the scientific community, but to bring science to a popular level.

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German paleontologist Cajus Diedrich believes Central European lions were not cave-dwellers, but lived in the open, where they were hunted by hyenas.

Specialized horse killers in Europe: Foetal horse remains in the Late Pleistocene Srbsko Chlum-Komín Cave hyena den in the Bohemian Karst (Czech Republic) and actualistic comparisons to modern African spotted hyenas as zebra hunters 

Cajus G. Diedricha, 

a PaleoLogic, Reasearch Institute, Nansenstr. 8, Halle/Westphalia, D-33790 Westphalia, Germany

Late Pleistocene spotted hyenas hunted Przewalski horses in spring to early summer, as documented by foetal horse skeleton remains of Equus ferus cf. przewalskii Poljakoff 1881, found between 3569 megamammal bones in the hyena den site Srbsko Chlum-Komín of the Bohemian Karst (Czech Republic). The main prey of hyenas Crocuta crocuta spelaea (Goldfuss 1823) was this small horse, well distributed in Central Europe. 51% (NISP = 1.800) of the megafauna in the Srbsko Chlum-Komín Cave are horse bones, consisting of mainly complete and in a few cases cracked and chewed dominantly leg and cranial remains. Carcass body parts must have been imported into the hyena prey storage and cub-raising den cave. Similar high amounts of horse remains and taphonomic situations are reported from other Late Pleistocene hyena den caves in Central Europe, such as Rochelot Cave (France). Den sites indicate an active selected hunt of mainly adult horses. Hyenas left partly articulated legs or complete distal bones and many isolated teeth at their dens, the latter resulting from consumption of the thin-walled horse skulls. In periods of megafauna species abundance, hyenas used mainly the meat leaving only a few chewed or cracked horse bones (Srbsko Cave or Rochelot Cave), whereas in poor feeding times or in cub-raising dens, bone consumption was higher resulting in many fragmented and chewed horse bones (Nad Kaèákem Cave, Czech Republic). Whereas African spotted hyenas hunt zebras and even modern donkeys successfully, in comparison to modern spotted hyena dens in Amboseli (Kenya) and Syokimau (Botswana), it seems as if the Ice Age spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta spelaea of Europe hunted very similar equine prey, in this case the Przewalski-horse, especially in hilly and mountainous regions, where the largest prey (mammoth and woolly rhino) were rare or absent.

The horse-hunting hyenas of Srbsko Chlum-Komin Cave

Category: Behavior • Mammals • Paleontology • Taphonomy
Posted on: May 3, 2010 3:05 PM, by Brian Switek 

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Breaking down a hyena kill. Given competition with other carnivores, prehistoric hyenas (like their living counterparts) would probably have disarticulated and transported parts of horses they killed. From Diedrich 2010.

In Hollywood films, there is nothing like an assemblage of bones strewn about a cave floor to testify to the power and voraciousness of a predator. Every skeleton is a testament to the hunting prowess of the carnivore, which causes even more alarm when the person who has stumbled into the cave realizes that they have just walked into a literal dead-end.

Although amplified for dramatic effect in the movies, this cinematic convention is based upon fact. Some mammalian carnivores do create bone assemblages in caves, and through the fossil record we know that they have been doing so for millions of years. In fact, the bone-collecting habits of carnivores have proven to be a boon for paleontologists, creating assemblages which not only represent the animals which lived in the area, but also provide clues as to the interactions between predator and prey during the distant past.

One such monument is Srbsko Chlum-Komin Cave in the Czech Republic. Discovered in 1942, this Upper Pleistocene site was once a spotted hyena den, and the activities of these predators caused many of the over 3,500 large mammal bones to become preserved at the site. Over 350 elements from hyena skeletons, bone-filled coprolites (fossil feces), and tooth-marked bones identify the cave as a place where the prehistoric hyenas took parts of their prey in order to consume them in relative peace, but, as explained by paleontologist Cajus Diedrich in Quaternary International, this assemblage is not quite like the other fossil hyena dens found elsewhere in Europe.

Among the other fossil mammals found in Srbsko Chlum-Komin Cave are lions, the woolly rhinoceros Coelodonta antiquitatis, steppe bison, reindeer, and ibex, but the most prevalent mammal by far (represented by approximately 51 percent of the bones) is Przewalski's horse. Portions of the horse's skull and limbs are found here in a frequency considerably greater than in other known hyena den sites, and, despite what might be expected for carnivores known to chew and consume bone, relatively few of the horse bones show any sign of being gnawed on.

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A comparison of the faunal makeup of Srbsko Chlum-Komin Cave (left) and Perick Cave (right). Each den site was located near different habitat types and were home to different assemblages of large herbivores. From Diedrich 2010.

According to Diedrich, the prevalence of horse remains and their generally intact condition may be attributable to two different causes. The first is what kinds of prey were regularly available for the Srbsko Chlum-Komin hyenas. Looking at other hyena-created bone accumulations elsewhere in Europe, horses appeared to make up a larger amount of the hyena diet in places where mammoths, musk ox, and large deer were rare. These differences may simply signal differences in habitat - sites where there are fewer horse remains and more mammoth remains, such as Perick Cave in Germany, are indicative of dens made near flatter grassland habitats which would have been more suitable to mammoths than the rocky habitat around Srbsko Chlum-Komin. Since the Srbsko Chlum-Komin hyenas lived in a place where mammoths and some other large prey were rare, they appear to have gone after horses much more frequently.

And there must have been a lot of horses, Diedrich hypothesizes, because if hyenas are able to frequently acquire meat they consume bone less often. Given the relative infrequency of toothmarked bone in the cave it would appear that the deposit represents a time when the hyenas caught and killed horses so frequently that meat was almost always on the menu. Determining the span of time during which the cave was occupied by hyenas is a difficult task, but it may be that it was inhabited seasonally during a time when there were plenty of horses to catch.

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Spotted hyenas giggling over an antelope spine. If a hyena can rip off and easily carry part of a carcass, it will often try to take it away from the kill site to consume it. Courtesy BMC Ecology.

But where are the rest of the horse skeletons? There are plenty of limb bones and skull fragments, but what were the hyenas doing with the rest of the bodies? Just as spotted hyenas often come into competition with other large predators (most prominently lions) for carcasses in Africa today, the cave hyenas of prehistoric Europe also had to contend with lions and other predators. Even if a group of hyenas successfully brought down a horse their kill could be stolen by a pride of lions or even another group of hyenas, and so hyenas developed a habit of dismembering carcasses and carrying off parts to consume away from the squabbling crush of meat-eaters. Since limbs and skulls carry a fair bit of meat and are easy to carry, it is not surprising that they are the best represented horse parts in the cave.

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The skeleton of a fetal horse found inside Srbsko Chlum-Komin Cave. From Diedrich 2010.

Yet, even now and then, the hyenas probably did manage to drag a mostly-complete horse carcass into their den. Among the new fossils recovered from the Srbsko Chlum-Komin site is a skeleton of a fetal horse, and there is little doubt that it would have still been inside its mother when it died. Why it was never consumed is a mystery, but its presence in the cave appears to indicate that the hyenas dragged the body of a pregnant mare into the cave, ate the choicest bits of the body, and then left the rest.

A fossil hyena den is far more than a messy jumble of bones. The identity and position of each skeletal element is just a part of a bigger story which can help paleontologists better understand the interactions of predator and prey during a time when our prehistoric relatives had to contend with the same carnivores and hunted the same prey. Every bone tell a story about the life of an animal, but what happens to a bone after death can tell us even more.

Fossilized Poop Reveals Ancient Hyena's Main Entrée

Jennifer Welsh, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 27 March 2012 Time: 07:01 PM ET

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Researchers are using DNA from fossilized poop of the cave hyena, an ancient mammal which went extinct during the late Pleistocene approximately 20,000 years ago, to understand the genetics and diet of this species.

By reading the genes in ancient poop, researchers have uncovered the diet and descendents of the cave hyena, which roamed throughout Eurasia alongside the Neanderthals.

The cave hyena, named Crocuta crocuta spelaea, lived for about 1 million years in Eurasia, before dying out some 10,000 to 30,000 years ago. Not only were they about 25 percent larger than modern hyenas, they were also more powerful and had a stronger bite, study researcher Jean-Marc Elalouf, of the Instituteof Biology and Technology Saclay, in France, told LiveScience.

The new data suggest that these prehistoric predators were probably a subspecies of the modern spotted hyena and liked to dine on red deer.

Cave poop

Elalouf and colleagues extracted DNA from nine specimens of fossilized dung, called coprolites, from a cave in the French Pyrenees. Two samples yielded good results, which the researchers analyzed further.

They specifically looked at DNA in the dung's mitochondria, or the cells' energy-generating structures. By comparing this genetic data with the mitochondrial genes of living hyenas, the researchers found that this cave hyena is very closely related to the modern spotted hyena, and less closely related to the modern striped hyena.

The results support previous studies that have indicated the "cave hyena" was an ancient subspecies of the modern spotted hyena — and should therefore be called the "Ice Age spotted hyena," Cajus Diedrich, a researcher from the Paleo-Logic Research Institute in Germany who wasn't involved in the study, told LiveScience in an email.

Hyena dinner

The DNA also suggested the hyena feasted mainly on red deer, something researchers had suspected based on bite marks found on deer bones in caves. The genetic data is confirmation of the diet, since it is less biased than bone finds; some animal bones are less likely to survive to modern times, Elalouf said.

In addition, "the DNA information could give us valuable insights into the population structure of the European populations in the run-up to their extinction," study researcher Gerrit Dusseldorp, of the University of Witwatersrand, in South Africa, told LiveScience.

The study will be published tomorrow, March 28, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 

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could the description of this hyena could be copied to the Ice Age Discoveries thread please ? It could be a great add to the Thread !

Thanks !
Just a normal guy who want to learn things !
@The normal guy: Why to copy/paste a thread into another thread? The information is already in the Animal Profiles section. Why to post the same information into another thread?
for the summary description of these animals... because otherwise you have to go back the this thread.... no, yes ?
Just a normal guy who want to learn things !
@The normal guy: After all, the thread about Ice Age animals is your thread, and you can post as you wish. But for each individual species, I prefer to use the Animal Profiles section, where I can find more information.
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