Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin


Panthera leo


Lions are large cats with short, tan-colored fur. There is white fir on the underbelly and a tuft of black fur at the end of a long tail. Lions are sexually dimorphic, meaning there is a visual difference between males and females (lioness). At three years old, male lions grow a thick, long mane (the size of a male’s mane is dependent on testosterone levels) that can be any color variation between black and blonde. Males are about 1.2 m in height and generally weigh between 189-272 kg while females have an average height of 1.1 m and tend to weight about 126 kg.


African lions are found in National Parks sub-Saharan Africa (excluding the rainforest and desert). Lions could at one time be found in southwest Asia and North Africa but there is only subspecies of lion currently of that region, the Asiatic lion (Panthera Leo persica) which can only be found in the Gir forest of northwest India.  African lions prefer plains or savanna habitats.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Lions are carnivores, consuming only meat. Hunting typically occurs at night and though early morning. This species is capable of hunting prey much larger than their body size, even giraffe. Their prey consists of large ungulates (hoofed animals) such as zebras, impalas, wildebeests, etc. Females do the majority of the hunting within a pride and they generally hunt in groups to increase effectiveness. These animals will also eat small prey such as rodents and fish, much of their diet is from scavenging food killed by hyenas.


This polygynous species breeds year-round. During the female’s 4 day estrus they mate two times every hour and even at this frequency the chances of a litter are small, only one out of five estrus results in a litter. A female typically produces one litter of 1-6 cubs (3.5 months after fertilization) every two years. Males will violently compete for females and will even kill a lioness’s cubs, causing her to go into estrus 2-3 weeks later and be available to that male for breeding.  Cubs are able to walk 15 days after birth and run after one month. Lion cubs have brown spots and a gray tint to their overall fur color until they are three months old but the brown spots may remain on the belly. Females nurse the cubs of their litter and also the cubs of other females in the pride. Cubs are weaned at 7-10 months but remain dependent on adults in the pride until they are at least 16 months. Females reach sexual maturity at 4 years old and males reach sexual maturity at 5 years old.

Months and Times of Activity

Twenty hours each day can be spent sleeping for a pride of lions. Lions are most active in the late afternoon when they socialize with their pride. Hunting activities occurs during the night and early morning.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Male lions are the only cats that grow manes.

•    Lions are known as the “king of the jungle” but they do not live in the jungle, they are found on the savannah and Serengeti.

•    Lions live in family groups called prides. There can be anywhere from 2 to 40 lions in a single pride. There are typically only one or two males in every pride and these males forcefully acquire a pride through challenging the previous male.

•    To read a legend featuring this animal go to:

•    Children’s book featuring this animal: The Lion and the Mouse by Diane Marwood and Anni Axworthy


Harrington, E. 2004. "Panthera leo" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at