Lion

The lion is a “Big Cat”, presently found in Africa and India. It is easily recognizable from its long mane, a prominent feature of the male lions. They are classified as keystone predators and reside at the top of the food chain in their habitat. Lions live in groups, hunt prey, and rear their young together, a trait not common in most cats.

Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Mammalia
Carnivora

Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Mammalia
Carnivora

Once upon a time, the lion was more widely seen throughout the world. However, due to shrinking habitats and indiscriminate hunting, their population has dwindled, nowadays living in a handful of protected parks and reserves.

Types of Lions
Types of Lions

List of the Common Types of Lion species

While presently a handful of species remain, lions were once spread throughout the world. Some extinct species include the Barbary lion of North Africa, the American lion, and the European lion.

  • Transvaal Lion
  • Congo Lion
  • Southwest African Lion
  • Nubian Lion
  • Asiatic Lion
  • West African Lion

Lion
Lion Animal

Physical Description and Appearance

Size: Length: Females: 63–72 in (160–184 cm) Males :  72–82 in (184–208 cm)

Weight: Females: 240 – 316 lb (110 -143 kg) Males: 350 – 496 lb (160 – 225 kg)

Body and Coloration: Lions have a muscular build with a small round head. Their color may range from a light buff to a silvery-gray, or even a yellowish-red and dark brown, with the hindquarters being lighter. The shaggy manes vary from reddish-brown to black.

Mane:  Male lions have a signature mane made up of hair darker than the rest of their bodies, deepening in color over time. A larger mane indicates several factors, such as a long reproductive life, greater success at fighting other males, and overall better health. The testosterone hormone is responsible for the development of the manes. So, castrated males, or those with a low level of the hormones will either lose their mane or have no mane at all.

Female lions rarely have manes, and if they do, one of the researched reasons behind the same is an increase in the cortisol and androstenedione levels.

Tail: Lions have a powerful tail ending with a distinctive tuft of hair. Cubs initially don’t have tufts, developing them at 5 1/2 months and becoming identifiable at 7 months.

Male Lion
Female Lion

Distribution

African lions are scattered across the sub-Sahara, while the Asiatic lion is limited to the Gir National Park in Gujrat, western India.

Habitat

Most lions prefer savannahs and grasslands, preferably with a few acacia trees to provide shade when it gets hot. The Asiatic lion lives in a mix of dry, savannah, and deciduous scrub forests.

How long do they live

On average, these big cats live for around 10-15 years.

What do they eat

Due to its vast palette, the lion is considered an apex predator and a hypercarnivore, some thriving on wild animals, while a few on domestic livestock.

The preferred prey for the African lion includes African buffaloes, gemsbok, giraffes, warthogs, wildebeest, and zebras.  Sometimes, they may even consume porcupines and small reptiles.

On the other hand, the chital and sambar deer form the majority of the diet of the Asiatic lion, though domestic livestock also makes up a significant part.

Carrion forms a considerable part of a lion’s diet. Scavenging lions keep an eye out for vultures or marabou storks circling, indicating a dead animal nearby.

Full-grown adult males require around 15 lb (7 kg) of meat, while females need 11 lb (5 kg). However, lions usually eat much more than that in a single session, eating up to 66 lb (30 kg) at a time.

Lion Image
Lion Picture

Behavior

  • The most recognizable vocalization of the lion is its roar, which can be heard up to 5 miles away. They do this to announce their presence. Other forms of vocal communication include bleating,  growling, humming, meowing, purring, puffing, and snarling.
  • Unlike most cats, lions are social animals, living in groups of 15 members on average, called a pride.  A pride usually has 2-4 males and more number of females, besides cubs of both sexes. Certain Asian subspecies form gender-based prides, with males and females in tow different groups, interacting only during mating.
  • As a form of greeting, lions rub their heads and also lick each other’s heads and necks.
  • In general, members of a pride are assigned specific roles. Females do the hunting and rear the young, while males protect the young and patrol the boundaries of their home range.
  • Lionesses work in a group to bring down prey using ambush tactics, with hunts usually taking place at night. Males generally do not participate in group hunts, although nomadic males can hunt on their own.
  • The animals hunted depend on availability, preferring ungulates if plenty of prey is available. They generally do not target smaller animals like hares or monkeys, or larger ones like elephants, only doing so if there is a lack of food.
  • Males maintain their territories by roaring and scent marking with the help of urine.
  • Lions will often attack and kill other competing predators such as other big cats like cheetahs and leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs. They may even target crocodiles stranded on land.
  • Homosexual relationships have been observed in lions, with courtship rituals between pairs.
  • Lions tend to be inactive for most of the day – almost 20-21 hours. They spend the rest hunting, eating, and moving about.
Llion Eyes
Lion Claws

Adaptations

  • The most helpful adaptation for lions is their tan-colored fur, giving them near-perfect camouflage in grasslands. This lets them ambush prey and avoid potential threats.
  • They have powerful senses, primarily good vision and an excellent sense of smell, helping them hunt effectively.
  • Like most big cats, lions have retractable claws and a rough tongue to extract the meat with ease.
  • They can open their jaws to a width of about 28cm, giving them a big bite.

How do they reproduce

This species does not have a fixed breeding season. Once the female is in heat, the male has sex with her. Both genders initiate copulation. When mating, the male mounts the female, biting her neck throughout the process to keep her docile.

Life Cycle

After a gestation period of a 110 days, a litter of 4-6 cubs is born. The mothers give birth to them in a secluded den away from the rest of the pride, returning after 6-8 weeks when the young have matured a little. Lionesses often give birth simultaneously to avoid competition during feeding, since the cubs indiscriminately suckle from any of the nursing mothers of the pride.

Cubs are born blind, weighing 2.6–4.6 lb (1.2–2.1 kg) at birth. Initially, they are wary of other adults but become more friendly and playful as time goes on. They reach maturity after 3-4 years, then the males are evicted from the pride or may even challenge the existing males. Females will usually stay with their group but sometimes become nomads. Often nomadic males and females will start their own pride.

Lions
Baby Lion

Conservation

The IUCN lists the lion as “Vulnerable” or  “VU”. Several species of lion have become extinct in the wild, while the existing species are protected in reserves and parks worldwide. These include  Waza National Park in Cameroon,  Alatash National Park in Ethiopia, and the Gir National Park in India.

Lion – FAQs

1. Do lions eat hyenas?

Normally, hyenas do not form a part of the lion’s diet as they do not provide sufficient sustenance. However, weak or old lions may attack them for food.

2. How many lions are left in the world?

It is estimated that there are about 20,000 lions left in the world.

3. Do lions live in the jungle?

Despite their nickname, “King of the Jungle”, lions live in grasslands or open areas with few trees.

4. What does a lion symbolize?

The lion is commonly associated with strength and courage. It is also a symbol of majesty, justice, and military might

5. Are lions cats?

Yes, lions are one of the “Big Cats”.

6. How fast can a lion run?

Lions can run short bursts of speeds, reaching 50 mph (80 kph) during these periods.

7. What animals eat lions?

As an apex predator, lions face few threats. Old or weak lions and cubs can sometimes be attacked by cheetahs, wild dogs, and hyenas, while crocodiles have been known to attack them at times.

8. Are tigers bigger than lions?

Physically, tigers are usually larger than lions.

9. Can lions climb trees?

Lions are capable of climbing trees, however, most trees in their habitat cannot support their weight.

10. What is a baby lion called?

Baby lions are primarily referred to as cubs, though sometimes they are called whelps or lionets.

11. What is a female lion called?

A female lion is called a lioness.

12. Can lions swim?

They are not good swimmers and are more suited to land. Lions can swim though, and sometimes on hot days will cool off with a quick dip.

13. Are certain lions white?

As the result of a condition called leucism, some lions can show a patchy white pigmentation. However, they are not natural albinos, as its eyes and skin have the same color as a normal lion.

Lion Tail
Lion Tongue

Interesting Facts

  • As one of the most recognizable animals globally, the lion has massive cultural significance. They have been used to represent gods such as the Egyptian deities Sekhmet and Bast, the Mesopotamian goddess of love Ishtar, and Narsimha, one of the avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu.
  • The Mali Empire’s prince and founder Sundiata Keita, was nicknamed the ‘Lion of Mali’. While king Ashoka of ancient India erected the Lion Capital of Ashoka bearing four Asiatic lions.
  • Lions have been used as symbols worldwide, including a sword-wielding lion on the national flag of Sri Lanka and the coat of arms of Finland.
  • Pop culture has also strongly represented this big cat, with the most well-known examples being the story of Androcles and the lion, the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and the 1994 animated feature The Lion King.
  • Bridget, a female lion at the Oklahoma City Zoo, had mysteriously developed a small mane that surrounded her neck, the reason being her abnormal hormonal levels.