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21 Interesting Facts About Lions That Might Surprise You

21 Interesting Facts About Lions That Might Surprise You

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King of the Jungle, King of Beasts, King of the Savanna — no matter which title you use to describe lions, one thing is certain: they are one of the most majestic mammals on Earth. From blockbuster movies to nature documentaries to kids’ cartoons, lions are incredibly fascinating creatures to watch and study.

But how much do you really know about these powerful species of the wilderness? Unsurprisingly, there’s much more to lions than their hunting prowess, tactical movements, and dominance in the wild.

In this article, you’ll go under the surface and unmask the great king (and queen). It’s time to learn 21 interesting facts about lions — one of the strongest and most cunning animals in the world.

Lion and lion cub
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

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21 Interesting Facts About Lions

There are obvious, well-known truths that are widely appreciated when it comes to lions. Glorious male manes, muscular bodies, fearlessness, and pure savagery: you get those undeniably at face value.

But if you want deeper admiration for this ferocious beast, cousin of the beloved pet cat, here are 21 eye-opening facts for better insights into the jungle’s most courageous commander.

1. Lions Embody the Phrase: “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work”

Lions, and specifically lionesses, are much-loved and respected for how they share the duties in their pride groups. Just like women form tight bonds, lionesses also grow very close within their pride. So close is the bond of female lions that their gestation periods (about 110 days) can be synchronized.

Mama lions take great care to nurture their pride’s young, even going beyond each lioness’ biological offspring. Quite admirably, lionesses are pioneers of teamwork and collaboration.


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2. Are Lions Secret Herbivores?

Lions do very well living in dry areas like the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa. While it is a well-known fact that they are carnivorous animals, they do have a slight herbivore edge to them.

Besides their usual prey (deer, zebra, buffalo, and wildebeest), another interesting water source for lions is plants such as the Tsamma melon. When watering holes are few and far between, lions adapt to their environments and improvise with what’s around them. Hence turning to certain useful vegetation.

3. Africa Is Home to a Majority of the World’s Wild Lions

In the wild, you get two internationally recognized lion types. This is similar to how there are only two official gorilla subspecies.

The first lion type is the Panthera leo, also known as the African lion of sub-Saharan Africa (specifically the Sahara desert). Most wild lions living in natural habitats are found in Africa.

The second lion type is the Panthera leo persica, the Asiatic lion of India (seen primarily at the Gir National Park).


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4. Lions Are Social Creatures

Lions are the most sociable big cats — the only ones that prefer to roam as a squad in groups famously known as prides. Each group consists of a majority of females (who you might want to think of as sister wives), their cubs, and up to four males.

A pride will usually have 10 – 15 lions on average but can reach 40 members in some instances.

5. Gender Equality Is Questionable in Lion Prides

Lionesses are the chief hunters of their pride (girl power much?). With their smaller, leaner, and more agile bodies, lionesses can expertly stalk and kill their targeted prey as a team. Lionesses take care of an astounding 88% of the hunting duties.

There’s a plot twist, however. After a hard day’s work and successful hunting, male lions get the first pickings of each meal. After the males, the lionesses eat next, and eventually, the cubs get a nibble.

Males are tasked with protecting the pride’s territory (which can be as expansive as 100 square miles). Their duty is to ensure that predators and other prides do not infiltrate their domains.


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6. A Lion Can Change Its Spots

You’re probably thinking: “But a lion doesn’t have spots,” right? Technically, when lions are born, and throughout the early stages of life, they sport rosette-looking spots on their coats. These disappear with age.

A lion’s temporary spots serve an important purpose. While the cubs are young, the spots keep them relatively camouflaged. This provides a necessary level of safety while they are still maturing and learning to fend for themselves.


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7. Lions Aren’t Actually the King of the Jungle

Before you panic, thinking your whole childhood was a lie, what this really means is that lions are indeed the mighty maestros of the animal kingdom. But not exactly of the jungle in its literal sense.

Lions don’t live in jungles. Their natural habitats are, in fact, African savannas, grasslands, and plains. Tanzania is home to three of Africa’s five largest lion populations.


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8. Lionesses Are Master Strategists

As the principal hunters, lionesses use clever ambushing tactics. The pride’s alpha female leads the pack during missions.

Lionesses use a semicircular approach when cornering their prey, with smaller lionesses responsible for coaxing the target towards the center. The larger, stronger females pounce once their mark is in the middle.

Hunts sometimes occur between dusk and dawn, which isn’t a disadvantage because lions have excellent vision. They exhibit impressive bursts of speed (up to 50 miles or 80 kilometers per hour) over short distances, with sharp retractable claws that latch onto and control their prey skillfully.


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9. Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Whose Mane Is the Fairest of Them All?

From about one year old, a male lion’s mane starts to grow — getting more magnificent with time. Manes can measure up to 6,3 inches (16 cm) long. They are a significant separator between the boys and the men.

A large, healthy mane signals dominance, and with age, manes get darker. Manes solidify male attraction. Lionesses are attracted to males with thick, dark, robust hair.

Manes usually cover the head, neck, and underbelly area. They play a vital role in protecting the head and neck during clashes. Manes are also markers of aggression, necessary to defend one’s pride.


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10. Lions Are Smart Communicators

Lions are expressive and communicate with different sounds. Besides their intimidating roars, which can top 114 decibels, they also grunt, growl, and moan. Cubs make cute contributions as well, with snarls, hisses, and mews.

Lions often roar together with a calling sequence that reaches 5 miles (8 kilometers) away, for as long as 40 seconds.

Lions communicate as follows:

  • Roars — as a mating call, territory marker, and warning signal to predators and competitors
  • Marking specific areas with their scent — as a territory marker
  • Rubbing their heads together — as a form of bonding

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11. Lions Can Weather the Storm

If the 1988 R&B smash hit “Can You Stand the Rain?” was a song about lions, the resounding answer would be: Yes! Lions can most definitely stand the rain.

How, you wonder? They are creatures of opportunity and won’t let less favorable weather deter them. Lions can hunt during heavy rains and storms, going as far as to use features like strong winds and noises to their advantage against unsuspecting prey.

12. Lion Cubs Are Very Vulnerable

Lion cubs, also adorably called lionets and whelps, are understandably helpless at birth. For several weeks, their eyes stay shut, and they have limited vision once they finally open. This puts them at great risk of attack by male lions that aren’t their biological fathers, giant birds, and slithering snakes.

Lion cubs only begin to hunt around a year old. Lionesses protect their cubs fiercely for about six weeks, even hiding them when necessary.

Cubs spend their time following other pride members as they move around and, of course, by playing and goofing around with siblings.


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13. Lions Are Top Dogs (Actually Cats), Leaders in the Hierarchy

In the wild, lions rule the roost. They sit comfortably atop the food chain. No other animal preys on lions, so their only real predators are humans (see facts 16 and 21).

However, there is competition for space and food, and reason to be cautious. Hyenas cause the most annoyance to lions because both species fight for the same resources. Animals like buffalos only pose a threat because of the harm they tend to cause in retaliation.

An interesting fact about zebras is that they can kill a lion with one powerful 3000-pound kick of force. But this doesn’t happen frequently, as lions are extremely crafty hunters.

14. Lions Keep It in the Family, but Only for So Long

Females’ synchronized pregnancies ensure that multiple litters are raised together until the age of about three. When an adult lioness is within its reproductive heat cycle (estrus), things have to change.

Many male and a small number of female lion cubs have to get going. They are booted out of their pride and forced to start fending for themselves elsewhere. Most female cubs retain a place in the pride with the matriarchs and their sisters (all praise feminist communities).


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15. Are Male Lions Deadbeat Dads?

Male lions do not directly participate in the hands-on (or, more aptly, paws-on) parenting duties in the pride. By this point, you’ve already learned that lionesses do most of the nurturing and hunting while the males provide overall pride and territory protection.

Male lions often kill or chase off the cubs of another male lion they defeated when sparring for leadership over a particular pride. Unfortunately, the deadbeat dad squad is quite prominent in the wild. Bobcat males leave their female counterparts and their offspring after the birth of their kittens. Pretty cold, right?

Lions are also quite idle, earning the title of “laziest big cat” in the feline family. Lions, and particularly the males, can sleep for up to 20 hours in a day.


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16. Lionesses Outlive Male Lions

Much like how women generally outlive men, in the animal kingdom, lionesses outlive male lions. In the wild, a female adult can live up to 16 years compared to the male’s 10-year lifespan.

In captivity, both female and male lions live significantly longer, up to 25 years. The oldest lion ever recorded reached 29 years old.

Thousands of lions are held in captivity as a popular and profitable tourist attraction. Many are also hunted and used in the Asian traditional medicine market.

17. Lions Can Swim (Although They Prefer Not to)

Similar to domesticated pet cats and even wild bobcats, lions can swim, but it doesn’t mean they enjoy it. Lions will dip into the water when required, like instances when they are brave enough to go after prey like alligators and crocodiles.

18. Lions Hold Silver for the World’s Largest Cat

Lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and snow leopards make up the five big cats. And of these feral felines, lions rank in second place for size. Lions are muscular with round heads and ears and a signature hairy, tuft-adorned tail.

On average, male lions can measure 10 feet (3 meters) long and weigh up to 400 pounds (181 kg). Females can measure 8 feet (2,4 meters) long and weigh up to 290 pounds (132 kg).

white-male-lion interesting facts about lions

Image by Steven Watson on Unsplash

19. Lions Have 30 Powerful Chompers

Lions are big eaters, consuming up to 15 pounds (7 kg) of meat in one meal. This means a strong set of 30 teeth is needed to rip and tear through their prey’s skin and remove meat from the bones.

It only takes a lion’s roar to witness how menacing its teeth are. Their sharp canines can grow up to 2,8 inches (7 cm). They also use their tongues as meat scrapers.

A lion’s bite force is 650-1000 pounds of force per square inch (psi). Compare that to the modest 162 psi bite force of a human, and you get the picture.


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20. Lions Are Tree Climbers (but Clumsy Ones)

Lions aren’t as adept at climbing trees as leopards and bobcats, but they can climb trees — particularly lions who have acquired the skill in some African parks. You’ll find tree-climbing lions in regions like the Serengeti in Tanzania and Uganda.

Lions are heavy and burly, so they’re not avid climbers. But when they do climb trees, it’s mainly to get some peaceful sleep in the cool shade. There are also fewer ground insects in trees, where they get the added advantage of a heightened viewpoint.

On odd occasions, trees provide lions with safety as they can hide from angry buffalo herds.


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21. Sadly, Lions Are Under Threat

Humans have much to do to protect these graceful and stately mammals because lions have been in decline in the past three decades, specifically in Africa. The West African Panthera leo’s conservation status is critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Nature conservationists and experts say there are just over 20,000 lions that remain in the wild. One of the biggest threats to lion species is territory loss and changes in weather patterns (extreme climate), like droughts, which affect the whole ecosystem. Hunting by humans and illegal trade are also massive problems threatening lion populations.


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