This is definitely one of the best-recognizable animals on the planet.
In this post, you’ll be able to discover the ultimate list of facts about lions.
1. It’s not the biggest cat on the planet
That’s not to say that lions are cuddly little kittens! They still rank in second place in our top 10 list of biggest cats, just behind the mighty tiger which is the largest cat in the world.
The lion is a very muscular, deep-chested cat which has an average length of 3.64 meters (11.94 ft) and stands about 1.35 meters (4.42 ft) tall. Males are much larger than females as well.
2. Lions are part of the Felidae family
The “Felidae” is a family of carnivorous mammals that we usually simply refer to as “cats.” Yes, this also includes the average domestic cats, which means that they are direct relatives of the lion, even though their subfamilies diverged from each other between 10.8 and 11.5 million years ago.
The lion belongs to the subfamily Pantherinae which includes most of the largest cats in the world such as tigers, jaguars, leopards, clouded leopards and Sunda clouded leopards.
3. Its scientific name was changed
The genus that the lion belongs to was changed from “Felis” to “Panthera” in 1816 by German naturalist Lorenz Oken, and before, its scientific name used to be “Felis Leo” before it was changed the “Panthera Leo.”
It got its original scientific name in 1758 from Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish zoologist that created the system of taxonomy for defining animal species.
4. There used to be a lot of subspecies
Between the 18th and 20th centuries, 26 cat species were believed to be subspecies of the lion. In 2005, only 11 of them were considered to be valid though.
In 2017, however, a phylogeographic study was conducted which revised the taxonomy of lions yet again. It concluded that there are only 2 main subspecies:
- Panthera leo leo – The subspecies in North Central Africa, West Africa, and India.
- Panthera leo melanochaita – The subspecies in Southern and East Africa.
5. The lion diverged from these two sister groups
While all the members of the genus Panthera are very close relatives of the lion, some of them are part of the same sister group, which means the closest relative possible.
- The Jaguar – Diverged about 2.06 million years ago.
- The Leopard – Diverged about 3.1 – 1.95 million years ago.
6. Some extinct subspecies were pretty scary
The fact that there are only 2 subspecies and a handful of family members of the lion in the genus Panthera doesn’t mean that there weren’t more. Several fossils have been found which indicates that there were more of them.
Some of them are the “Ceylonese lion” (lived in Sri Lanka), the “Panthera leo fossilis” (lived in Europe and the UK), the “Eurasian cave lion,” and the “American lion.”
The American lion was about 25% larger than the modern lion, had immense teeth, and was still walking the planet as early as 11,000 years ago.
Pretty scary to come across one of these!
7. Where does the word “lion” come from?
The word “Lion” has been derived from the Latin word “Leo” and the Greek word “Leon.”
8. The mane is the male lion’s most prominent feature
Male lions are easily recognized by their immense mane, which starts growing when they are about one year old. In the early stages, the mane is much lighter and gradually becomes darker as they grow older.
The darker the mane of a lion, the healthier the animal is. On top of that, it also indicates a longer reproductive life and healthier offspring.
Yes, the male lion can be judged by its mane!
9. There’s one place lions will never go
Lions prefer to roam around grassy plains and savannahs, preferably with some rivers flowing nearby, and open woodlands. Their “hobby” is lying beneath acacia trees that provide shade on hot summer days in the African landscape.
There’s one place that lions don’t dare to go, and that is closed forests, which in return means they are absent from all rainforests as well.
10. Lions are very social animals
One of the most interesting facts about lions is that they are the most social cats in the world. They tend to flock together in groups with their relatives and offspring. These groups are referred to as a “Pride.”
These groups consist of about 15 to up to 30 lions and both females and males defend their pride against intruders. Male lions usually have to patrol a lot more because there are always intruders who try to infiltrate and take over their position.
11. Lions aren’t just the average carnivore
Lions like meat, so much that it consists of all of their food consumption which effectively makes them the epitome of a hypercarnivore.
What makes lions special is that they don’t stick to just one type of prey, but they can eat just about anything they come across. If the opportunity arises, they will hunt blue wildebeest, plains zebra, African buffalo, gemsbok, and giraffe. All of these consist of their favorite lunch.
12. They aren’t known for their stamina
Let’s just call it how it is, lions are pretty lazy animals. The main reason that they rest about 20 hours a day is that they aren’t blessed with high stamina.
They have a relatively small heart compared to their body size. The female’s heart is just 0.57% of their body weight and the males only 0.45%. This means that they are built for short bursts, which they are capable of just about any time of the day.
13. They usually hunt at night
The downside of such low stamina is that they have to be pretty close to their prey before they launch an attack. They need to be able to kill the prey relatively fast or they will tire and the prey will outrun the mighty lion.
Because of this, they tend to hunt at moments that visibility is at its lowest, at night. If they haven’t been able to find prey at night and they are hungry, or if the opportunity to catch delicious prey arises, they will usually ambush their prey and try to kill it with a fast rush and final leap.
If that doesn’t work, the lion will return to his favorite spot and rest without a delicious meal, because now, he’s extremely tired.
14. This animal is the lion’s main competitor
Lions don’t have any natural predators, after all, they are the king of the jungle, right?
They do have a pesky competitor in the form of the spotted hyena when it comes to the prey that they catch.
In some instances, the hyenas will try and steal the food that the lion just caught, something they really don’t appreciate. In other instances, it’s the other way around and the lion will steal the food of the hyena, because, well, that’s much easier.
One thing is clear: These two species will never along!
15. Lionesses can have more than one partner
Lionesses that are in heat might have multiple sexual partners, which means these aren’t monogamous animals at all.
The gestation period is about 110 days and they give birth to 1 to 4 cubs. After the cubs are born, the lioness isolates herself from the pride for 6 to 8 weeks before integrating herself and her cubs back into the group.
16. The roar of a lion is very loud
Lions are world-famous for their roar. Their roar is so loud that it can be heard at a distance of up to 5 miles (8 km)!
Why do lions roar?
Because they want to make their presence felt!
They do a good job at that as well, just take a look at this compilation of loud lion roars:
17. Roaring isn’t their only form of communication
Being the most social cat on the planet, you would expect that lions possess some social communication behaviors other than roaring.
Lions are known to groom other members of their pride by licking and head rubbing. Head rubbing is also used to simply say “hello.”
Lions also possess several facial expressions and body postures that are pretty sophisticated and allow them to communicate with each other on a deeper level.
Yes, it’s never boring in the lion’s pride!
18. Lions are the most popular animals in zoos
Since the 18th century, zoos have kept lions as one of the central animals of the exhibit, for the simple reason that they are the most magnetic creatures of all animals.
At the moment, just over 1,000 lions are being held in zoos all over the world, mostly for tourism, educational, and preservation purposes.
19. Lions used to have a vast range
Lions used to have a vast range and lived all across the central rainforest zone and the Sahara Desert. It also used to live in Northern Africa but became extinct in this region in the 1960s.
Lions lived in most parts of Southern Europe but were hunted down by the Romans for their infamous animal hunting games. The last lions in Europe lived in the Caucasus up until the 10th century.
Lions also used to live in large parts of Southwestern Asia and India where climate conditions allowed enough prey for these mighty carnivores.
20. Lions are an endangered species
Lions have listed been listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List since 1996. It has been estimated that its population in the wild has declined by at least 43% since the early 1990s.
The most prominent reason for the decline of population is habitat loss and interaction with humans, as lions are often hunted down as trophy animals.
21. It’s one of the most prominent animal symbols in human culture
Lions have been used as a symbol of determination, strength, and power, since ancient times and all over the world.
In fact, drawings found in caves called “Lascaux” and the “Chauvet Caves” in France have been dated back to 17,000 years ago. These are the earliest known depictions of lions in human culture, which would be followed by thousands more.
Wherever the lion lived, it sparked the imagination of human beings, and this majestic animal still does today!