The mighty king of beasts, king of the jungle and king maker, the lion is symbolic of power, dominance and nobility. From ancient history to the modern age, lions have captured the imagination. However, there’s more to these amazing animals than you might expect. Here’s the most fascinating lion facts and information about lions that mau just astound you.
1. The lion is not in fact the biggest big cat
Despite the fact that they can grow up to 3.3 metres in head to body length, and weigh up to 250kg, lions are not the biggest member of the cat (felidae) family. That honour goes to the tiger.
2. The social butterflies of the cat world
Lions are very social creatures. This is one of the facts about lions that makes them unique in the cat world. They are the only cat to live in groups, which are called prides. Prides live in clearly marked territories, known as “pride areas”.
The average number of lions in a pride is 15, but it can be as low as 4 and as high as 37. Females make up the majority of any pride, with most – if not all – of the lionesses likely to be related. There are then a smaller number of males, usually between 1 and 4, plus any cubs.
From an evolutionary perspective, prides are thought to make hunting and defending offspring and territory much easier.
3. They Stand Out from the Crowd
Group living is not the only lion fact that makes it stand out from its feline peers. Another unique tidbit of lion information is that it’s easy to tell the males from the females of the species, a trait known as sexual dimorphism. This is, of course, largely down to the males’ luxuriant manes.
4. Who Runs the Lion World? Lionesses, of course
It’s females who are in charge of the lion’s share of pride business. Not only do they outnumber the males, but lionesses are the leaders and main hunters.
5. They’re a Bit Like Teenagers
Male lions share several characteristics with human teens, especially with their proclivity to sleep for 20 hours a day. They are also mostly nocturnal. Finally, they’re loud. Their thunderous roar is audible from five miles away.
6. Humans are their Biggest Threat
Lions have no natural predators, but their numbers have been in steep decline. When looking at the question of whether lions are endangered, the IUCN lists their conservation status as vulnerable. It is believed their numbers in the wild have gone from 200,000 in the 1950s to around 20,000 in the present day. The reasons for this can largely be traced to humans, whether through destruction of their natural habitat, hunting of their natural prey or hunting lions themselves.
7. Conservation Efforts are Underway
However, humans are also working hard to save the wild lion. South African conservation areas play a large part in this, protecting the extant lion population there. And there are various schemes throughout lion habitats to curb hunting.
8. The lion as king of the jungle? Not really.
In fact, lions prefer the shade, openness and water supply found in savanna, woodlands and grassland. That’s not to say that lion habitats are not found elsewhere. Lions are versatile and do live in extreme environments such as deserts. So it’s not that lions are never found in jungles, it’s just that its generally the least likely place you’d run into one. It is thought that this bit of dubious lion information derives from the origins of the phrase in Hindi. The Hindi word most similar to jungle means wilderness or forest. As for the “king” part, see the next of our facts about lions.
9. Scarface: The Real Lion King
Contrary to Disney’s portrayal of this majestic beast, there are no “kings” in a lion pride. It is a far more equal society. However, if there was ever a lion monarch, it was Scarface. This indomitable beast, often called the world’s most famous lion, was named after an injury to his eye left him permanently disfigured. Scarface’s story is extraordinary in many ways, from his lustrous mane to his longevity at the top of prides, to his natural death in 2021. Incidentally, the Disney character Scar was not inspired by the real one. It was just a coincidence.
10. A Lion’s Mane: A Font of Lion Information
The shaggy, prominent mane is not just the male lion’s most distinctive feature, but it is also a font of lion information. A lot of facts about male lions can be gleaned from its size and colour, and even its absence.
The health of a lion’s mane is considered a good indication of a lion’s overall health. Indeed the mane has been linked to everything from sexual maturity and testosterone levels to climate. Research has also suggested that females prefer a darker mane, and that it indicates longer virility. However, in higher temperatures, it actually causes the opposite effect and makes the lions more prone to the heat.
11. They are Not Picky Eaters
Lions are generalist hypercarnivores, which is the scientific way of saying that they are happy to eat almost any meat. They tend to prey on antelope, wildebeest and other medium sized hoofed animals. But they’ll hunt anything from a mouse to an elephant, should the opportunity arise. What’s more, they are not above scavenging kills from other animals if it means fresh meat.
A Complex Picture
As much lion information as we think we may know, this mighty big cat is full of surprises. From its diet and habitat to its lifestyle and behaviour, there are so many intriguing and interesting facts about lions just waiting to be discovered.