Hyenas seem to have disproportionately short hind legs. It may be the opposite, maybe the front ones lengthened to raise their heads even higher than their already long necks do. In any case, this trait is not seen in any other cursorial animal (that I know), asymmetry is not a good Ally in the long run. So why?

  • $\begingroup$ This website along others claim (without reference) that it is to allow to see further (like gorillas if I am not mistaken). Do you not believe this could be a sufficient reason? $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Mar 19, 2017 at 21:12

1 Answer 1


First most animals have limbs of different lengths. consider a house cat at full extension its hind limbs are much longer than the forelimbs.

The relative length of the limbs means almost nothing functionally, it is the relative length of the gait, or the distance the limbs can swing that is important, a longer less flexible limb may swing the same distance as a shorter but more flexible limb. Source

When the limbs have very different gaits you end up with hoppers or so called pendulum runners like rabbits and kangaroo or they do not fully utilize the possible arc of one limb like gorilla this second one pops up when ground travel is not the primary means of locomotion. Hyena do fall in either category their limbs are close enough for a normal gait. enter image description here

Hyena limbs are not as different in length as many people think, the massive neck and shoulder muscles make the front limbs look taller than they are in many photographs, but yes they are longer. The heavy musculature plus the longer forelimbs are all adaptation to make the animal stronger with more leverage, better able to rip apart a carcass and crush bones. They do not need the massive hind limbs of the large cats becasue they do not "pounce", you see the same adaptation in the so called "Fanged Cats" or saber tooth cats they have massive forelimbs. More importantly the massive muscles on the shoulder and neck make the forelimbs less flexible so to get the same arc swing out of the limb, it has to be longer.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you very much. I found very interesting that of the pendulum runners. I had already realiced that ther lococmotion is very different and a "pendulum" absolutely matches. Your explanation of the different limb lenght to compensate lack of flexibility is perfdect. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2017 at 10:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .