The lion, known as the king of the jungle, is perhaps the most popular wild animal. The lion is also referred to 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: For more lion loving, check out our list of the best lion quotes. Our compile of lion quotes features famous conservationists and other lions lovers talking about the majesty and importance of protecting these fantastic animals.
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 lion populations4, but they are extinct. Lions live in open woodlands, dense scrub, grassland, and the savanna. 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 India's Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. Asiatic lions are smaller compared to African lions.
The lion and the house cat belong to the same family, Felidae. Although the house cat and lion belong to the same family, they are different in so 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 a long well-muscled body, short legs, and an enormous head. A lion’s coat could vary from buff-yellow to silvery-grey or dark brown and orange-brown.
Male lions look different compared to females because of manes. The 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 126kg3.
The heaviest lion ever recorded weighed 272kg; it was a male lion in Mount Kenya. Lions use their weight to suppress large prey and defend their pride’s territory.
Lions are carnivores; they only ever eat meat. They hunt other land-dwelling mammals like zebras, antelopes, and wild hogs. Large animals like elephants and giraffes also fall prey to lions, especially when they sustain injuries or are 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 such big eaters; they can eat up to a quarter of their body weight in a single meal. That is about 40kg of meat. A lion’s tongue is super coarse and is used to scrape meat off bones. Lions in the pride share their meals together.
What's a group of lions called? - Lions live in groups called prides. They appear to be social animals compared to other big cats. A 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.
Members of the pride 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.
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 that 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.
In the wild, lions may survive for 8 to 10 years which is 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. Often, when a new dominant male joins a pride, he kills off all the cubs to start a new family carrying his genes only.
The adult male lions grow an impressive mane, but manes are not just for cool looks alone. 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 also serves as protection for the neck and head during fights and hunting.
Lions start to grow 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 head, shoulders, throat, and chest, some lions may just have a slight fringe around their face.
Unlike other big cats, Lions have a plain sandy coat, but they don’t start that way. Lion babies have greyish rosettes and spots that gradually fade away as they grow older. 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.
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 a big mouth, not because they talk or roar too much. But because they can spread their jaws up to 28 cm wide, that is almost a foot. Their large mouth houses three types of teeth; incisors, canines, and carnassials. The canines are the most prominent and can be as long as 7 cm.
The big cat known as the mountain lion is a new world cat species that belongs to the subfamily, puma. It is not a lion at all. The animal is also known as a cougar, catamount, or panther. The mountain lion is native to America and ranges from Alaska to Chile and Southern Argentina.
Lion captors have mated lions with other big cats like 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 leopard.
Ligers are about five feet tall and can weigh up to a thousand pounds, making them exotic curiosities. Some conservationists believe these hybrids should not exist in the natural world1.
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.
Lions can also grunt, squeak or scream amongst other noises thanks to their unique voice boxes.
Every August 10, people all over the world celebrate lions. They use this day to raise awareness about lion conservation. You can find 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.
Lions breed once in two years in the wild but breed yearly in captivity. Both males and females mate with multiple partners. During the mating season, which is about four days, a pair of lions copulate about 50 times a day. Male lions secure their paternity through this frequent matting.
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 lions protect their territory from intruders.
To increase the chances of a successful hunt, lionesses hunt in teams. The weaker lionesses act as herders, corralling the prey while the stronger and more experienced lioness goes for the kill.
While males in prides 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.
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.
It takes 108 days from the point of conception for a baby lion to be born. A lioness may have one to six cubs at once. Four cubs are the typical average number of cubs in a litter. 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.
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 where lions are strong enough to try taking 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.
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 a long time ago. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has listed the lion as a vulnerable species since 20142.
There are about 23,000 wild lions left 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 habitat and prey.
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 are driving lion populations towards a decline.
Humans also hunt lions for fun. Trophy hunting targets the healthiest and largest males, often the heads of their prides. Such killings take away the protection of the pride and leave them vulnerable to dangers from other lions.
The lion is the favorite animal of many people and cultures. When people ask "what animal is the king of the jungle?" - the answer of course 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 hunts and activities that contribute to habitat loss. Furthermore, giving to charities working tirelessly to protect these amazing animals can help provide vital funds to further their work.
Jani Hall (2017) Cat experts: ligers and other designer hybrids pointless and unethical. National Geographic.
Bauer H. et al (2017) Panthera leo. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Panthera Leo. Animal Diversity Web.
Roland W. Kays. Lion. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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.