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20 Interesting Lion Facts About the King of the Jungle

The lion, known as the king of the jungle, is perhaps the most popular wild animal. It is also known by its scientific name, Panthera Leo. We admire the lion for its fearsome roar, beautiful thick mane, and bravery, but there is so much more to know and love about this majestic animal. So, we compiled 20 fun facts about lions for you.

Did you know that not all male lions have manes? Did you know that although they are fierce felines, lions are the laziest big cats? Or did you know that although we commonly call the lion the king of the jungle, lions don't live in jungles? We explain all of these facts and more in this article.

Related: Check out our list of the best lion quotes for more lion-loving. Our compilation of lion quotes features famous conservationists and other lion lovers discussing the majesty and importance of protecting these fantastic animals.

Summary: Essential Lion Facts

Lion Profile
Scientific name:Panthera leo
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Carnivora
Family:Felidae
Genus:Panthera
Subspecies:Two main (African lion-P.leo leo, Asiatic lion-P.leo persica)
Physical Characteristics
Average Male Size:Length: around 8.2-9.8 feet; Weight: 330-500 pounds
Average Female Size:Length: around 7.2-7.7 feet; Weight: 265-400 pounds
Distinctive Characteristics:Mane in males, Sedentary lifestyle, social behavior
Habitat and Range
Habitat:Grasslands, savannas, dense brush, woodlands
Range:Sub-Saharan Africa and a small population in Western India
Conservation Status
Status:Vulnerable (IUCN Red list)
Major Threats:Habitat loss, poaching, human-wildlife conflict
Conservation Initiatives:Establishment and safeguarding of protected areas, anti-poaching efforts, conservation breeding programs

Lion Q&A

These Are Some of the Most Common Questions People Ask About Lions with Answers:

  • What do lions eat? - Lions are carnivorous and primarily eat large ungulates like zebras, buffalos, and wildebeests.
  • How long do lions live? - In the wild, lions live for an average of 10-14 years, but in captivity they can live up to 20 years.
  • How fast can a lion run? - A lion can run up to speeds of 50 miles per hour.
  • How do lions communicate? - Lions communicate through a range of behaviors and their roar is the most distinctive, heard up to five miles away.
  • When do lions hunt? - Lions generally hunt at night or during dusk and dawn, relying on the darkness to stalk their prey.
  • What is a group of lions called? - A group of lions is called a "pride."
  • Are lions the king of the jungle? - Despite the popular phrase, lions typically live in savanna and grassland, though they can enter forests. The term "King of the Jungle" more accurately refers to their regal appearance and their position at the top of the food chain.
  • Are lions endangered? - Lions are not classified as endangered, but their conservation status is "Vulnerable," with decreasing population trends.

General Facts About Lions in Detail

General lion facts
Photo by Nathan Guan on Unsplash.

1. Lions live in Africa, mostly.

You may walk into a zoo in any country today and find a lion, but Africa is the only place with an existing native lion population. This is why we commonly refer to lions as African lions (Panthera leo). 

Historically, Europe and Asia had native lions, but they are extinct. A lion's natural habitat comprises open woodlands, dense scrub, grasslands, and savannahs. African lions roam the open plains of sub-Saharan Africa, not the jungles.

A subspecies of lions descended from the African lion called the Asiatic lion (Panthera Leo persica). The Asiatic lion population is about 650 individuals large and exists only in Western India's Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. Asiatic lions are smaller compared to African lions. 

2. The lion is just a big cat.

The lion and the house cat belong to the same family, Felidae, but they are different in many ways. 

Lions belong to the category of felines referred to as big cats. Lions are the second-largest cat; tigers are the largest. They have long, well-muscled bodies, short legs, and enormous heads. A lion’s coat could vary from buff-yellow to silvery-grey or dark brown and orange-brown.

3. Male and female lions look different.

Male lions look different from females because of their manes. Females are also slightly smaller than adult males. Males stand at 1.2 meters with a 3.3-meter body length. Females are 1.1 meters tall and have a body length of about 2.4 meters. Male lions weigh about 189kg, while female lions weigh around 126kg2

The heaviest lion ever recorded weighed 272kg, a male lion in Mount Kenya. Lions use their weight to suppress large prey and defend their pride’s territory.

4. Lions can eat 40kg of meat at once.

Lions are carnivores; they only ever eat meat. They hunt other land-dwelling mammals like zebras, antelopes, and wild hogs. Large animals like elephants, wildebeest, and giraffes also fall prey to lions, especially when injured or sick. Sometimes, a lion will feed on leftovers or outrightly steal from other predators and smaller animals like wild dogs, hyenas, or leopards.

In captivity, lions don’t need to hunt for their meal. They feed some lions domestic livestock while most lions eat ground beef specially produced to meet their nutritional needs. 

Lions are big eaters; they can eat up to a quarter of their body weight in a single meal, which is about 40kg of meat. A lion’s tongue is super coarse, scraping meat off bones. Lions in the pride share their meals together. 

5. These big cats love their pride.

Lion and cub
Photo by Birger Strahl on Unsplash.

What's a group of lions called? - Lions live in groups called prides. They appear to be social animals compared to other big cats. Pride can have 4 to 38 members, but the average number is around 15 members. The pride consists of several generations of closely related females, their cubs, and a smaller number of males.

Lion prides usually hunt and eat together. They have a defined territory that they defend. The area ranges from 20 to 400 square km, and they mark it out by roaring and scent from urine and feces. A pride can keep its territory for decades, passing it on to female cubs, not usually kicked out of the pride like the males.

6. Lions are powerful but lazy.

We know lions are the laziest of all the big cats. They spend 21 to 22 hours a day sleeping, resting, and just sitting around. That leaves them with about 2 to 3 hours of daily hunting time. These big cats gorge themselves on so much food they don’t have to eat for several days.

Thanks to the possession of excellent night vision, lions get up to hunt at night. This strategic move gives them advantages over prey. Lions mostly hunt at night but also take advantage of storms to hunt. The noise and poor visibility allow them to stealthily approach prey without spooking their dinner. 

When busy being lazy, lions are affectionate to other pride members, often rubbing heads and grooming. 

How long do Lions live?

How long do lions live
Photo by Ansie Potgieter on Unsplash.

7. Lions live between 8-25 years.

In the wild, lions may survive for 8 to 10 years, relatively short compared to an expected lifespan of over 25 years in captivity. Many factors contribute to the short life expectancy in the wild, but female lions have a better chance at a long life than males. That’s because the young males often get kicked out of the pride around the age of three.

There are regular fatal fights to defend the lion’s position in the pride. Adult male lions also commit infanticide when they take over a new pride. When a new dominant male joins a pride, he often kills off all the cubs to start a new family carrying his genes only.

Lion mane
Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pexels.

8. Manes are a big deal.

Adult male lions grow impressive manes, but manes are not just for cool looks. The manes can grow up to 16cm long and make lions look bigger than they are. That illusion of size proves useful in attracting mates and scaring off potential rivals. A lion’s mane protects the neck and head during fights and hunting.

Lions start growing manes at three years old. The older a male lion gets, the darker his mane becomes. A full and dark mane shows dominance. Note that not all adult males have manes. While some lions will have manes covering their heads, shoulders, throats, and chests, some may just have a slight fringe around their faces.

9. Lion cubs are spotty.

Lions have a plain sandy coat, unlike other big cats, but they don’t start that way. Lion babies have greyish rosettes and spots that gradually fade as they age. The spots will have faded at about three months old. The spots do not fade entirely in some lions and are still visible in adulthood.

10. A lion has extremely sharp claws and a big mouth.

A lion has five toes on its front paws and four toes on its back toes. Each toe has claws made of keratin, like human fingers and toenails. These claws can grow to 38 cm. 

On the lion’s front paws are toes with claws that act as thumbs called the dewclaw. Lions keep their claws sharp by scratching trees. They also use these sharp claws to climb trees to seek shade. Also, lions keep their claws sheathed under fur while they rest and sleep.

Lions have big mouths, not because they talk or roar too much. Their mouths are almost a foot wide because they can spread their jaws up to 28 cm wide. Their large mouths house three types of teeth: incisors, canines, and carnassials. The canines are the most prominent and can be as long as 7 cm.

11. A mountain lion isn’t really a lion.

The mountain lion, also known as the cougar, catamount, or panther, is a new world cat species that belongs to the subfamily puma. It is not a lion at all. The mountain lion is native to America and ranges from Alaska to Chile and southern Argentina.

12. Hybrid lions exist.

Lion captors have mated lions with other big cats, such as tigers and leopards, in captivity. The offspring of a lion and a tigress is a liger, while the offspring of a tiger and a lioness is called a tigon. A leopon is the offspring of a lion and a leopard.

Ligers are about five feet tall and weigh up to a thousand pounds, making them exotic curiosities. Some conservationists believe these hybrids should not exist in the natural world1.

13. A lion’s roar can be heard five miles away.

lion roar
Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Lions are not the only cats that roar, but their roar is so loud we can hear it from five miles away. All the lions in a pride usually roar together as a way to mark their territory and warn intruders. The roaring usually lasts for about 40 seconds.

Thanks to their unique voice boxes, lions can also grunt, squeak, or scream, among other noises.

14. August 10 is World Lion Day.

Every August 10, people all over the world celebrate lions. They use this day to raise awareness about lion conservation. Lions are used in many monuments and emblems to represent qualities like strength, bravery, royalty, and so on. 

The New York National Library has two stone lions, Fortitude and Patience, outside its building. Lions also feature in famous books like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wizard of Oz. The Bulgarian word for money is ‘leva,’ which means lion in old Bulgarian.

Essential Facts About Lions

15. Lions are polygamous.

Lions breed once every two years in the wild but yearly in captivity. Both males and females mate with multiple partners. During the mating season, which lasts about four days, a pair of lions copulate about 50 times a day. Male lions secure their paternity through this frequent matting.

16. Lionesses are primary hunters.

Female lions are the primary pride hunters because they are more agile than males. They are also in charge of the pride's welfare while the male lions protect their territory from intruders, which can cover a range as large as 100 square miles.

Lionesses hunt in teams to increase the chances of a successful hunt. The weaker lionesses act as herders, corralling the prey, while the stronger and more experienced lioness goes for the kill.

While males in a pride may eat from the kill of the lionesses, nomadic males always hunt their meals themselves. Lions tire quickly when they run, so they typically stalk prey from short distances.

17. Lion cubs are raised communally.

Female lions and their cubs make up the majority of the pride. The females are usually related and nurse their cubs through joint efforts. Lion cubs can suckle from any lactating female lion in the pride, and she weans them by the sixth or seventh month.

A baby lion is born 108 days from the point of conception. A lioness may have one to six cubs at once, but the average number of cubs in a litter is four. Cubs are born dependent. They don’t attain complete independence until about two years old, although they begin to learn how to hunt at 11 months old.

18. Lions don’t make the best parents.

Lions care for their young and will protect them from attacks but are negligent parents. Lionesses often leave their cubs alone for a whole day. After cubs reach sexual maturity at three or four years, the females may be forced out, but the males are always expelled from the pride.

The expelled lions wander around as nomads until they are about five years old. That is the age when lions are strong enough to try to take over a pride. Young lionesses don’t have to defeat a competition to join another pride, so they may find new homes easily. Many lions remain nomads for life.

Environmental Facts About Lions

Lion pride and cubs
Photo by joel herzog on Unsplash.

19. The lion population is vulnerable.

The population of lions has been steadily decreasing for over three decades now. Lions used to exist in places like Europe, but those species were extinct long ago. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has listed the lion as a vulnerable species to extinction since 2014. However, there is also a critically endangered population in India.

How many lions are left in the wild? About 23,000, which conservationists consider a concerningly small population.

African lion numbers have declined by over 40% in the last three generations. Killing lions in retaliation or as preventive measures to protect human lives is one reason the population decreases. Another reason is the decline of natural habitats and prey.

20. People illegally source lion bones as medicine.

In Asia, tiger bones are a popular traditional medicine, but poachers turn to lions as those are becoming less available. Illegal wildlife trade is one of the many ways humans drive lion populations toward a decline.

Humans also hunt lions for fun, posing one of the main threats to their survival. Trophy hunting targets the healthiest and largest males, often the heads of their pride. Such killings remove the pride's protection and leave them vulnerable to dangers from other lions.

Conclusion

The lion is the favorite animal of many people and cultures. When people ask, "What animal is the king of the jungle?" the answer is the lion. People enjoy going on safaris to watch lions, but this could be a thing of the past if we do not take lion conservation seriously. 

You can help save lions and other animals vulnerable to human encroachment by refusing to participate in hunting activities contributing to habitat loss. Furthermore, giving to charities working tirelessly to protect these amazing animals can help provide vital funds to further their work. 

1

Jani Hall (2017) Cat experts: ligers and other designer hybrids pointless and unethical. National Geographic.

2

Panthera Leo. Animal Diversity Web.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

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