Hyenas and Triadic Closure

Amiyaal Ilany, a Penn Biologist, recently discovered the prominence of triadic closure among hyenas. His studies concluded that hyenas in the wild use the “friend of a friend” notion in forming social relationships.

The scientists found that cohesive clustering of the kind in which an individual bonds with friends of friends, something scientists call “triadic closure,” was the most consistent factor influencing the long-term dynamics of the social structure of spotted hyenas.

The study showed that the hyenas choose to form these triadic bonds to facilitate efficiency and enhance fitness. Clusters of hyenas among “trustworthy friends” is conducive to survival and hunting. Hyenas form “clans” with whom they travel and live with. Males change clans as they hit puberty, females remain in their clan for their lifetimes, but both carefully choose those with whom they form strong bonds. Within their clans, smaller, more meaningful relationships form, typically consistent with triadic closure. There are differences between the relationship choices between male and female hyenas: men have been shown to use strict rules in choosing companions, while reasons for females are more situational.

They are also selective in their social choices, tending to not form bonds with every hyena in the clan, rather preferring the friends of their friends

This study proves that the idea of befriending someone who is deemed trustworthy by a respectable source is clearly applicable beyond the human realm. In our society, triadic closure introduces us to people with whom we may share common interests. In the wild, however, it can be life or death.


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