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Unlikely Roommates

Scientists were surprised to observe hyenas, porcupines, and warthogs—three animals that aren’t usually peaceful with one another—sharing dens.

A hyena, a porcupine, and a warthog sit on a couch playing video games.

© marina_dikh/; Illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The best of friends?

Porcupines and warthogs are known to be prey for the spotted hyena. So scientists were surprised when they realized that hyenas, porcupines, and warthogs were peacefully sharing dens in a wildlife preserve in Kenya.

Scientists made the discovery when they were reviewing footage from cameras that had been set up outside two dens. At one point, one of the dens was home to two porcupines, three warthogs, and seven hyenas. The other housed two porcupines, six warthogs, and 11 hyenas. All the animals used the same entrances to the dens. Sometimes all three species entered the dens within minutes of each other. There’s no evidence that there were any fights—or worse—in the three years the scientists observed the dens.

Since the three species aren’t usually peaceful with each other in the wild, scientists aren’t sure how the living arrangements worked. They believe there may have been separate chambers inside the underground dens, so the inhabitants didn’t get in each other’s way. 

Marc Dupuis-Désormeaux, the lead author of a study on the living arrangement, says it’s likely the animals decided to share existing dens rather than dig new ones during the dry season, when the ground is hard. In fact, when the rainy season arrived, the animals seemed to stop sharing the dens.

Also, the porcupines and warthogs would have been safe inside the dens. Hyenas use stealth to hunt—but they can’t sneak up on their prey in a small space.

“They’re just faced with a faceful of really nasty warthog tusks or porcupine spines,” Dupuis-Désormeaux told Radio France Internationale.

Did You Know?

© Deon De Villiers—500px Prime/Getty Images

Spotted hyenas are often thought of as scavengers that eat the remains of other animals’ prey. But hyenas are also skilled hunters. Working together, a pack of hyenas can kill an antelope or a wildebeest.

Let’s Make a Deal

© Emanuele Biggi—Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Despite appearances, this Peruvian tarantula is not about to kill this humming frog.

The hyena-porcupine-warthog roommate situation isn’t unique. Scientists have observed other members of different species sharing the same living space. Two animals will sometimes live together because the arrangement benefits both of them. 

In Peru, India, and Sri Lanka, certain species of frogs are known to live with large spiders such as tarantulas. Tarantulas are large and powerful enough to kill and eat small frogs. Yet scientists observed them grabbing the frogs and then letting them go unharmed. They believe the spiders detect toxins in the frogs’ skin and decide to wait for the next possible meal to come along. The frogs often sit underneath the spiders, suggesting that they get some protection from being near these unlikely eight-legged allies.

What’s in it for the tarantulas? Frogs will eat ants, which often invade a tarantula’s space with the intention of eating its eggs.

Sounds like a good deal!

Surprisingly Shy

© Bryan and Wendy Mullennix—Verve+/Getty Images

Where do tarantulas live, and why do they have hairs all over their bodies? Find these answers and more at Britannica School!






to act together : to come together and have an effect on each other — often + with

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