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Lions are Africa's top predators
The lion is one of the largest, strongest and most powerful cats in the world, second only to the Siberian tiger in size. They are the largest cats on the African continent.
While most big cats are solitary hunters, lions are very sociable animals that live together in family groups called prides.
They are one of the most popular animals in the world:
Scientific name and classification
The scientific name of the lion is Panthera leo . The genus Panthera is of Greek origin and includes roaring big cats such as tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards. Leo is the Latin word for lion.
There are two types of lion subspecies. One species, Panthera leo melanochaita , lives in South and East Africa. The scientific name of the second lion subspecies is Panther Leo, which lives in West Africa, Central Africa and Asia.
You may see references to African and Asian lions. Until 2017, there were two recognized subspecies, the African lion and the Asiatic lion, but scientists reclassified the lion that year. For more information on lion types, see our complete lion classification guide.
evolution and origin
Most lions in the cat family are thought to have descended from a common ancestor known as Proailurus Lemanensis , meaning "first cat." This ancient creature is a feline-like creature that walked the earth nearly 25 million years ago.
Fossil evidence shows that the earliest lion-like cats appeared in Laetoli, Tanzania, East Africa, in the late Pliocene (5.0-1.8 million years ago).
Additionally, genetic studies have shown that lions evolved in eastern and southern Africa.
Incredible Lion Facts!
- The lion animal is considered one of the "Big Five in Africa".
- The largest lion ever recorded weighed 690 pounds and was shot in South Africa in 1936. Ancient lions were even larger than the largest lions today, weighing up to 1,153 pounds!
- Between 1993 and 2014, the IUCN estimates that lion populations declined by 42% . Due to poaching and habitat loss, it is estimated that there may be fewer than 20,000 lions left today.
- Although lions are generally pack animals, prides are usually made up of 80 percent females. For this reason, only about one in eight male lions survive to adulthood. Groups of male lions sometimes band together to control large territories. In South Africa's Kruger National Park, a famous pride of male lions controls more than 170,000 acres and is estimated to have killed more than 100 hostile lions and cubs.
- Lions are animals that have been kept in zoos and captivity for a long time. In 18th-century England, the entrance fee for the Tower Menagerie (predecessor to the London Zoo) was 3p, and a cat or dog could feed the lions !
For our full list of incredible lion facts, see our 13 Amazing Lion Facts page.
anatomy and appearance
Lions have a short tawny or golden coat with a tuft of longer fur at the end of a long tail. The markings on their fur are much darker than the striking stripes and spots of other cats, which helps these large carnivores remain undetected when stalking prey in long grass.
Lions have strong and powerful jaws with a total of 30 teeth, including four fang-like canines and four carnivorous teeth designed for cutting meat.
The lion animal is one of the largest cats in the world, the males are taller and heavier than the females, and have a long mane around their faces (in fact, this is the only species in the feline world where both males and females actually look different).
Thought to be related to testosterone levels, the male lion's mane ranges from blond to red, brown and black, covering the head, neck and chest.
Several big cats with color mutations, such as white tigers or black panthers, have been observed in the wild. Likewise, lions have an uncommon color mutation that makes their coats extremely pale.
Unlike albino white tigers — that is, lack of pigment in their fur — white lions' fur is caused by recessive traits. The unusual nature of white lions led to their capture and captivity in the second half of the 20th century.
Today, white lions are kept in many zoos and safari parks. For example, in North America, as of 2020, six white lions are located in Parc Safari near Montreal, Quebec. However, they are now being reintroduced into the South African environment and are successfully breeding and hunting in their native environment.
Distribution and Habitat
Lions have historically been found throughout most of Africa and even parts of Europe and Asia.
Today, however, they have been pushed into more isolated areas within their once vast natural range, and the remaining African lion populations now exist only in countries in sub-Saharan Africa. There are still small populations of Asiatic lions in remote areas of the Gir Forest in India.
Despite dwindling numbers, lions are actually a very adaptable animal, and they can and will survive in very dry climates because they get most of the moisture they need from food.
They prefer open woodlands, brush and long grass, where not only is there a lot of cover, but also a variety of prey. They're just not found in tropical rainforest areas or deep in deserts.
Population – how many white lions are left?
© Kirill Dorofeev/Shutterstock.com
Lions, like other big cats, are threatened by habitat loss and hunting. Between 1993 and 2014, the number of lions fell by 42%. A recent estimate by the IUCN puts the adult population at between 23,000 and 39,000 mature individuals. Today, lions as a species are listed as "vulnerable," a step further than being declared "endangered."
African lions may number more than 20,000 individuals, while Asiatic lions are estimated to number only 600 individuals. Asiatic lions are confined to one game reserve in India, covering just 545 square miles (1,400 square kilometers). Further growth in Asiatic lion populations will depend on reintroduction to new habitats in India.
Species and Subpopulations
Scientists believe that 10,000 years ago, lion animals were the most widely distributed mammals outside of humans. However, their range today is a fraction of their historical size. This is due to the extinction of two distinct lion species at the end of the last ice age and the shrinking range of lions due to habitat loss
The Barbary lion once lived on the north coast of Africa, from Egypt to Morocco. Until recently, it was considered a distinct subspecies of lion, but research now shows that it is genetically similar to the Asiatic lion.
The Barbary lion was mostly hunted to extinction in the 19th century. The last recorded sighting was in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria in 1942 (although the discovery of pelts on illegal markets in the 1980s suggested that the Barbary lion may have survived longer), leading to the lion's extinction in North Africa . Today, Barbary lions are not considered a distinct subspecies, but for most of the 20th century, they were.
Cape lions once lived in South Africa and have darker manes than many other lion populations. Today, Cape lions are considered a subpopulation rather than a distinct species or subspecies. No lions have been found in the Cape Lion's range since 1858.
Cave ( Panthera leo spelaea )
The cave lion, a species of lion that straddled Eurasia and entered Alaska, died out with the collapse of the mammoth steppe about 12,000 years ago. The species lived throughout continental Europe, and many archaeological maps of lions in the region depict cave lions. The species was larger than the lions surviving today. Multiple frozen cave lion cubs have been found in Russia's permafrost in recent years.
American ( Panthera leo atrox )
Another lion species that disappeared during global climate change about 12,000 years ago, the puma's range spanned much of the modern-day United States and Mexico.
Cougars are known for being the largest of the lion species. Its habitat was similar to today's African lions, and it ate large mammals such as bison, deer and even mammoths in the vast grasslands.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Lions are unique among cats in that they live in strong social groups. A pride consists of 5-15 related females and their cubs and a male, usually solitary (small groups of 2 or 3 are not uncommon). Male lions patrol about 100 square meters of territory, marking trees and rocks with urine and roaring to warn intruders.
Although male lions can defend their pride well, their place in the pride is constantly threatened by other males who try to take over their territory and, if successful, kill the offspring of the previous male any cubs.
Despite their large size, male lions actually hardly take part in any hunting activities, as they are usually slower and easier to spot than female lions.
Lionesses in a pride hunt together means that not only are they more successful on the road, but they are also able to catch and kill animals that are faster and bigger than they are.
A lion's roar can be very loud, reaching around 114 decibels. Their roars are loud enough to break through the pain threshold of human hearing! Lions roar louder than any big cat and can be heard from about 5 miles (8 kilometers) away.
The ability to roar at such high volumes is due to the unique adaptations of the lion's vocal cords. Lions typically roar to warn and defend their territory. In addition to warning the males, the roar allows members of the pride to find each other, as its sound can travel great distances.
Breeding, Pups, and Lifespan
Both male and female lions can breed between the ages of two and three, but despite this, they usually do not breed until the pride is firmly established.
After a gestation period of nearly four months, lionesses give birth to one to six cubs, which are born blind and extremely vulnerable in their new environment. The cubs' fur is covered with dark spots that help camouflage them into their dens and protect them when the adults are out hunting.
Tragically, however, less than half of the pups make it to their first year, and four out of five have died by the time they are two, often from animal attacks or starvation. It's worth noting, though, that the lionesses in the pride give birth to their cubs around the same time and help suckle and care for other females' cubs.
Lion cubs nurse until they are about six months old, and although they don't start actively hunting until they are about a year old, cubs start eating meat after about 12 weeks.
Like most big cats, lions live about 10 to 15 years. Lions in captivity live much longer than in the wild. In 2016, the Philadelphia Zoo had to euthanize a 25-year-old lioness with limited mobility.
diet and prey
A lion is a large carnivore that can only survive by eating other animals. Food that lions eat includes buffalo, wildebeest, and even giraffe. Depending on the abundance and diversity of prey species within their territories, lions follow herds across open grasslands, preying primarily on gazelles, zebras and warthogs, as well as many antelope species.
If this is the case, they will not snort when hunting alone, and will happily steal another animal's prey.
But that changes once the animals are captured, as the females let the male lions eat before pampering themselves. Cubs, however, are at the bottom and must settle for what's left after the adults are done.
Unlike other cats, lions are not solitary hunters, but lionesses work together to hunt their prey, each playing a different strategic role. This tactic allows them to kill animals that are faster and larger than them.
A study of 1,300 lion hunts found that they were 17-19 percent successful when hunting alone. However, when hunting in groups, the success rate jumped to 30%.
On average, lions eat about 17 to 20 pounds (8 to 9 kilograms) of meat per day. Males can eat about 100 pounds (43 kilograms) a day, while females can eat 55 pounds (25 kilograms).
For a complete analysis of a lion's diet, be sure to read "What Do Lions Eat?" 15 Foods They Hunt.
Predators and Threats
Lions are the most dominant predator in their environment, meaning that other animals pose little or no threat to them, with the exception of packs of hyenas, which can be fatal to lions, especially if they are alone and food is at hand hour.
Lions are considered a huge threat by many other species, including giraffes and elephants, who could easily mortally injure a lion in an attempt to warn it.
A significant threat to lions comes from other lions compared to other species. In South Africa's Sabi Sands, a group of male lions formed an alliance that is believed to have killed more than 100 lions in what would eventually be a 170,000-acre territory.
Male lions often kill each other as they try to wrest control of prides, and then kill pride cubs to ensure that the gene pool that doesn't belong to them is passed on.
Lion populations have also been severely affected by diseases spread by wild dogs through hyenas, with distemper killing more than 1,000 lions between 1993 and 1997.
relationship with humans
However, the greatest threat to lions is that people kill them not only out of fear (and historically as trophies), but also from agricultural and urban encroachment.
Admired and feared for centuries, lions have been lost from a large portion of their historic natural range due to hunting and growing human settlements.
While they don't naturally see people as prey, African lions have been known to sneak into villages (sometimes on a large scale) in search of food and attack as many as 700 people a year, with lions killing 100 people a year in Tanzania alone.
In 1898, two lions in Kenya (known as the Tsavo lions – a pair of lions without a mane) became famous for killing and eating more than 130 railway workers over a period of about nine months.
3 Facts About Lions
Remember to read our full lion facts page for a complete list of the most incredible facts about this remarkable species. You will find the fact that:
Lion cubs practice hunting through role play!
Young lion cubs spend a lot of time playing together, which actually helps them develop hunting skills. This role-playing of pups also helps females determine whether they are better suited to chasing and approaching prey, or capturing and killing prey.
The lion has a small heart and lungs, so it must rely on stealth and teamwork
Lions have large paws with soft pads underneath and sharp retractable claws at the end of each toe, which helps them run, climb and catch prey, as well as being a great defense mechanism. The structure of their feet and legs means they are also capable of jumping over distances of 10 metres.
Lionhearts weighed around 1,175 grams, which, relative to their size, was much smaller than many of the herbivores they hunted. The size of their hearts and lungs means that lions can only exert their strength over short distances and must rely on teamwork and stalking their prey before they can start the hunt.
World's most famous lion survives plane crash
One of the most famous lion images is the roaring lion at the beginning of an MGM film. To raise awareness of the lion, MGM flew their mascot across the country in 1927, but the plane crashed on a flight from San Diego to New York.
The Original MGM Lion Survived a Plane Crash, Living on Sandwiches and Milk for Four Days!
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Lion FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Who would win in a fight: a lion or a silverback gorilla?
A common question we see is whether a lion or a silverback will win a fight. The short answer is that the Lions may have the upper hand.
The longer answer is that the territories of the two species rarely overlap. Although lions are known as the "kings of the jungle," they prefer to hunt in the open. However, male lions may migrate to more wooded areas.
Gorillas mainly live in tropical rainforests or densely forested areas. The two species may meet at the fringes of their respective territories.
Are lions endangered?
Today, lions are listed by the IUCN as "vulnerable" animals that are threatened with extinction in their natural environment in the near future. With an estimated 42% decline in global lion populations between 1993 and 2014, lions continue to be threatened by hunting and habitat loss.
The Asian subspecies of the lion is listed as "endangered" by the IUCN. With only about 600 individuals living in a single forest, the species' numbers have increased in recent years, but a second population will need to be established to continue to see its population rebound from the brink of extinction.
Lion vs. Tiger: Which Is the More Dominant Predator?
Lions and tigers are often compared as the two largest big cats. Amazingly, in 2019, the ranges of these two big cats overlapped each other for the first time in a generation! That's because Asiatic lions are restricted to India's Gir National Park, which has long been out of the tiger's range. However, in 2019, for the first time in 27 years, a tiger was spotted in the Indian state where Gir National Forest is located.
While competition between these two species has not recently occurred in nature, incidents have occurred in captivity. Roman emperors used to pit the species against each other, with varying accounts of which species prevailed. In more modern times, a Bengal tiger at the Ankara Zoo slid into a lion cage in 2010. It killed the lion by striking it on the neck with one paw.
What is a liger?
When a male lion and a female tiger mate, their offspring are called "ligers". Although lions and tigers diverged as species nearly 7 million years ago, they can breed with each other. All known ligers were created from captive species, and ligers have been reported to date back more than 200 years. The distinguishing feature of ligers is their enormous size, they weigh twice as much as lions and are the largest big cats ever observed. For more information on ligers, you can visit our full page on this unique animal.
How much does a lion weigh?
Lions typically weigh 120 to 250 kg (264 lb to 550 lb). A comprehensive study of 344 lions in South Africa found that males averaged 187.5 kg (413 lb) and females averaged 124.2 kg (273 lb).
The largest wild lion ever recorded was a 313 kg (690 lb) lion that was shot in 1936. Male lions in captivity have been observed to grow in size, in part because when they are neutered, they lose their manes and become obese.
How tall is a lion?
Male lions are about 4'2" (1.2 m) at the shoulders, or 3'4" (1 m) at the shoulders, while female lions are 2'10" (0.9 m) at the shoulders and 3'9" (1.1 m) overall ). Lions range in length from 4.7 feet (1.4 m) to 8.2 feet (2.5 m).
While lions can grow taller than most big cats, ligers stand at 4 feet 5 inches at the shoulder and can reach a total height of 6 feet!
Are lions herbivores, carnivores or omnivores?
Lions are carnivores, which means they eat other animals.
To which kingdom does the lion belong?
Lions belong to the animal kingdom.
What door does the lion belong to?
Lions belong to the phylum Chordate.
What class do lions belong to?
Lions are mammals.
What family does Leo belong to?
Lions belong to the cat family.
To what order do lions belong?
Lions belong to the order Carnivora.
What genus is a lion?
Lions belong to the genus Panthera.
What type of mulch does Lions have?
The body of the lion is covered with fur.
Where does the lion live?
Lions live in sub-Saharan Africa.
What type of habitat do lions live in?
Lions live in open woodlands, bushland and grasslands.
Who are the lion's natural enemies?
Predators of lions include humans.
What is the average litter size of a lion?
The average litter size for lions is 3.
What are some interesting facts about lions?
Lions live in small groups called prides!
What is the scientific name of the lion?
The scientific name of the lion is Panthera leo.
What is the lifespan of a lion?
Lions can live 8 to 15 years.
What is the name of the little lion?
Lion cubs are called cubs.
How many kinds of lions are there?
There are 2 types of lions.
What is the greatest threat to lions?
The biggest threat facing lions is habitat loss.
What is another name for lion?
Lions are also known as African lions.
How fast is a lion?
Lions can travel at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.
Who would win a fight between a Komodo dragon and a lion?
Lions win their fights against Komodo dragons. Lions are bigger, heavier, and possess something that Komodo dragons lack: the ability to kill enemies with one blow. Of course, the bony layer of the Komodo dragon prevents some damage, but a lion can simply bite the lizard's poorly defended neck and kill it quickly.
Who will win in a battle between a leopard and a lion?
A lion would win a fight with a leopard because it is stronger, more defensive, and often takes on bigger prey than the leopard.
Who would win a fight between a lion and a giraffe?
A giraffe would win a fight with a lion. Note that we said that if giraffes were all fully grown, they would beat a lion. Lions mostly hunt giraffes when they are young, and they often use their pride to kill larger giraffes.
Who would win a fight between a king cobra and a lion?
Lions win the fight against the King Cobra. The lion has a number of strengths that help it do the job. For one thing, a lion only needs one bite to completely kill a king cobra. At the start of a run, it can easily grab the snake in its claws and bite off its head before the snake can react.
Who would win a fight between a lion and a zebra?
Lions win the fight against zebras.
Who would win a fight: porcupine vs lion?
The Lions win the fight against the Porcupines.
Lions are ambush predators, fast enough to surprise and turn porcupines over, claw or kill them under the right circumstances.
Who would win in a fight: the lion or the kangaroo?
The lions won the battle with the kangaroos. However, kangaroos may display more skill than lions in terms of agility and speed. Lions are just bigger and stronger overall – kangaroos are unlikely to survive any serious fights.
Who would win a fight between a lion and a Siberian tiger?
The Siberian tiger will win the fight against the lion. Simply put, the Siberian tiger is bigger and more powerful than a lion. Although the two share many similar physical attributes, the force behind a tiger's attack is greater and the chances of ambushing a lion are greater.
How to say the lion is…
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- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
- Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
- David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
- Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
- David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
- Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
- David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals
- Lion Information, available here: http://www.barbarylion.com/LionInfo.htm
- About Lions, available here: http://www.lions.org/lion-the-animal-more.html
- Lion Facts, available here: http://www.lionslion.com/Lion-Facts.html
- Lion Status, available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/15951/0