Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fun Facts About Lions

Fun Facts About Lions

A pride of African lions in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Panthera

Species: Panthera leo

Subspecies: P. leo leo (African lion), P. leo persica (Asiatic lion)


Known as the only truly social cats, lions live a nomadic lifestyle in groups called prides, with a pack mentality that is usually led by the females.

Lions have golden yellow fur, and the adult male lions have shaggy manes that range in color from blond to reddish to black. The color appears to depend on a lions age, genetics and hormone levels.

Male lions grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) in length and usually weigh around 330 to 550 pounds (150 to 250 kilograms), while female lions are smaller, growing up to 9 feet (2.7 m) in length and weighing between 265 to 395 pounds (120 to 180 kg), according to the National Zoo. A lion's tail adds another 2 to 3 feet to their length (0.6 to 1 m). Adult lions stand about 3.5 to 4 feet high at their shoulders. (Asiatic lions are slightly smaller than African lions)

Lions' bodies are built for hunting: They are strong and compact, with strong forelimbs and jaws that help them bring down their prey.

Lions mostly eat large animals, such as zebra and wildebeest. They also steal from other predators such as hyenas and leopards. Females are the primary hunters in a pride.

Female lions mate about every two years, giving birth to one to six cubs after a three-and-half-month gestation period. About 60 to 70 percent of cubs die within the first year of their life. Females cooperate in raising a pride's cubs.

In the wild, male lions live about 12 years, while females live about 15. Zoo lions can live longer, into their 20s.

Prides can have as many as 40 individuals, including adult females, sub-adults (about 2 to 4 years old), cubs and one or two attached male lions.

Females stay in their mother's prides their entire lives, unless food shortage forces the pride to fracture. Males, however, are forced out of their pride when they are old enough to compete with the dominant males.

Male lions will roam in groups, usually made up of related individuals, and search for prides to take over. Males typically only live in a pride for two to three years before being forced out by another group.

Male and female lions mark their territory with urine and by roaring.

Where they live:

Lions once lived across Europe, Africa and North America, but they are now found primarily in Africa. They range from the southern border of the Sahara to the northern parts of South Africa. They dwell in the savanna habitat.

A small population of about 300 lions can be found in the Gir Forest of western India, according to the National Zoo.

A male Asiatic lion, a critically endangered animal found only in Gir National Forest in India.CREDIT: Lion image via Shutterstock

Conservation status:

African Lion – Vulnerable

Asiatic Lion – Critically Endangered

Lions face threats from hunting, habitat loss and diseases that can be spread from domestic dogs in nearby villages, according to the National Zoo.

The population of African lions has been almost cut in half in the past two decades because of retaliatory killings by farmers (whose livestock the lions eat), as well has trophy hunting and habitat loss.

Human encroachment on habitat has left the Gir population of lines highly endangered.

Odd facts:

Tigers are the closest relative to lions.

Lions are the second largest of the big cats, after the tiger.

A lion's roar can be heard up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) away, according to the National Zoo.

A male lion's mane protects it when it fights.

At short distances, lions can run 50 mph (80 kph). They can jump as far as about 36 feet (11 m).

Asiatic lions have skimpier manes than their African cousins and have a characteristic skin fold on their belly, according to the WWF. An African lions' ears are always hidden by its mane, while an Asiatic lions ears are visible.

Female lions will copulate on average 3,000 times for each cub that survives for a year.

Other resources:

IUCN Red List - Lions

Smithsonian National Zoo - Lions

WWF - Lion

WWF – Asiatic Lion

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