"Beware of the golden eyes when they shine in the darkness of the moonless nights; the eyes will follow your path, stalk your steps, and keep getting closer to your tracks; when you think you are finally safe, this will be the moment when you feel the warm breath of the desert beast on your neck"

Famous saying by nomads in North Africa

Sub-Species: Past and Present

Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: leo

Lions are one of the few living species thought to have ancient ancestors as far back as 1 million years. Based on fossil findings, dating 900 000-1 500 000 years, it is generally believed that there were four main sub-species that became extinct.

Eurasian Cave Lion: (Panthera leo spelaea) This is the oldest species of lion thought to have disappeared about 4000 years ago. It is believed that these lions roamed Europe, Siberia and China. They were also much larger than the existing African lion.

American Lion: (Panthera leo atrox) This lion crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia to North America and wandered as far as Peru and Chile. This lion was smaller than the Eurasian Cave lion, but still larger than the modern day lion. This species is believed to have become extinct at the end of the Pleistocene period.

Cape Lion: (Panthera leo melanochaitus) This species originally lived in an area in southern Africa called Natal and only became extinct in 1865. Cape lions were in abundance until their numbers were quickly decimated by hunting. Males of this species reached a size of 10 feet and a weight of up to 500 lbs. Also males had large, black manes, darker and thicker than those of remaining lion species.

Barbary Lion: (Panthera leo leo) The last lion of this line was shot in 1922 in Morocco. Its natural habitat was northern Africa in the Atlas Mountains. This species has several defining characteristics: the mane extended to the belly and was blond around the face and darker towards the back; clear and light colored iris; shorter legs and more muscular body than the modern day species. Barbary lions were kept by Roman Emperors.

The following is a list of remaining lion sub-species:

There are few differences between the above species other than in mane color and density, as well as location.

Appearance and life span

Lions are the largest carnivores in Africa and the second largest of the cat family. They are distinguished from other cats by their ability to roar. Male lions are significantly (40-50%) larger than female lions. Average measurements for an African male lion: body length: 170-190 cm; tail length: 70-150 cm; shoulder height: 80-110 cm; weight 150-225 kg. The few remaining Asian lions are about 20% smaller.

Lions are covered in thick, dense fur, usually of a tawny color. The tip of the tale and the mane on male lions can also be red, black, golden or brown. Some lions, although few, retain some tracings of the spots that they are born with, but these are faint. Like most other cats, the back of the lion's ear is black with a white spot.

Just like other cats, and carnivores, lions have numerous thick whiskers, also known as vibrasse. These sensitive hairs helps the lion to navigate around in the dark, or when it cannot see very well. Since it does most of its hunting at night, it helps it to almost "feel" its way around in the dark, picking up vibrations in the air, and feeling the ground in total darkness. The longest whiskers are on its upper lip, called the mystacial whiskers. The whiskers above the eyes are called the supercilliary whiskers. There are also whiskers on either cheek, called genial whiskers. Whiskers can occur not only on the face, but on the back of the paws as well. These whiskers are called carpel hairs, and are used to feel vibrations in the ground.

Male lions possess a very distinctive mane. The mane, which is comprised of fine, long hairs can be a different color from the rest of the body. It is thought that the mane makes to look the animal bigger and hence more threatening to would be attackers of the pride. It does, however, for the same reason render the male lion useless as a hunter. Whereas lionesses are able to hide, the mane makes the male lion far too conspicuous. It has also been observed that female lions prefer to mate with lions that have larger, fuller manes, indicating that the mane also serves as a sexual cue.

Male lions usually start to develop manes at the age of 2 years and its takes 5-7 years to reach full size. Lions also shed their manes annually and once they have reached a mature age, only take a few weeks to re-grow. The mane is the main reason why lions are called the King of the Beasts.

Male lions in the wild live on average 12 years, while female lions live much longer, reaching ages of up to 18 years. In captivity lions live longer, up to an average between 20-25 years.


The African lion lives in the savannas and forests south of the Sahara Desert. The Asian lion is now only found in the Gir Forest in western India. There are only about 200 remaining.

The species are distributed as follows:

Lions were found just about everywhere with the exception of Oceania in the past until human settlements encroached on their territories and many species were hunted to near extinction.


Lions usually hunt at night when the air is cooler and they are harder to see. Lions are not picky eaters and will happily consume wildebeest, zebras, young rhinos, young giraffes, impalas, gazelles, rabbits, baby elephants, and will even eat fish, rodents, birds, turtles, and ostrich eggs. Most often small prey is hunted by individual lions, while larger animals are a group effort. Lions have 30 teeth and use them to finish off their prey in three different ways: smaller prey is killed by snapping the neck; medium sized prey is killed by severing the throat and larger prey is suffocated.

It is generally the female lions that do most of the hunting, although young males without fully developed manes and males living outside of a pride are also known to hunt. An average lion is able to consume up 40 kg of food in one meal and might go for several days between feedings. Males eat first at family dinners, followed by high ranking females and then the low ranking females. Cubs eat last.

Lions are also able to go for long periods without water, obtaining moisture from prey and plants.


One sure way to know that a female is in heat is when a male and female are in close proximity to one another, and are displaying unusual amounts of affection towards one another. The female will be reluctant at first to let the male copulate with her. He follows her around, making attempts to mate with her on numerous occasions. Eventually, if the male is persistent enough, but not too persistent or violent, she allows him to mount her. She lays flat on the ground on her belly and presents her rear end to the male, which is sniffed. During mating, the male lightly grasps the female on the back of the neck with his teeth. The female responds to this with a low grumble during the entire mating session. Mating ends rather abruptly and violently in a flash of fangs and claws from the female. The male dismounts and jumps quickly to one side, and makes a loud growling yowl. When observing lions mating, one almost thinks that they both seriously dislike the entire act. There is so much tension, and the male works quickly to avoid being torn apart by the female, who if given half the chance, would cause serious harm to the male.

All the females in a pride usually go into heat at the same and, therefore, most cubs are born at the same time. The act of lovemaking only last about 1 minute and a lioness in heat will mate up to 100 times a day. Over the period of estrous, a female lion may have intercourse as many as 700 times. Female lions reach sexual maturity at the age of 2-3 years while male lions don't mate until they are 5 years.

After a gestation period of 110-120 days, a lion will give birth to 2-5 cubs. Cubs weigh under a 2.5 kg at birth and will suckle from any of the mother lions in the pride. They begin to walk at about 10 days and start to eat meat as a supplement to milk after about 5-6 weeks . They are weaned at 4 months. Almost 50% of cubs do not make it past their first year of life.

Social Organization

Lions live in groups called prides. A pride may consist of up to 12 mature and related females and their cubs and up to 6 adult males, who may be related to one another but not to the females. Lionesses usually stay in the pride into which they are born and it is the male lions that come and go. Male cubs are kicked out of the pride at 2-3 years and must find their own way into a new one. This prevents incest and keeps the number of competing adult males to a minimum.

There are several reasons while lions depend on pride organization: increased hunting success, defense of young, maintenance of long-term territories, insurance against individual injury and minimization of chances of getting no food at all.

Male leaders are usually 5-7 years old and most only maintain their position of power for an average of 2 years. Pride takeovers happen regularly when a leader is overthrown by newcomers. When this occurs, the new males will kill the former leader and all of his offspring. Younger males that have not yet established themselves in a pride sometimes form coalitions with other lone males and hunt collectively.

One of the most interesting things about lion prides is the elaborate greeting ceremony used to establish membership. When lions regroup after a hunt, they head butt and chuff at one another. This also reaffirms bonds and intruders who do not perform the ritual with confidence are chased off.


Verbal Communication

Because lions are highly social, communication is vital and more developed than in other cats. Lions grunt, snarl, hiss, moan, mew and, of course, roar. The roar can denote several different things. It can intimidate rivals, call other pride members and advertise territory. The male lion's roar is deeper and louder than the females. Females use a low grunt to call out their young cubs. Lions have also been known to purr, but only on exhalation. The purr only occurs when two lions are interacting on friendly terms or to soothe an animal of prey before killing it.

Body Language

Because most lions look alike, even to one another, body language is also very important. As described above, each pride has a unique greeting ritual to establish membership. As well, licking of the ears, face and shoulders is a sign of affection. The white spot on the back of the ears also helps to communicate emotion. When a lion is angry he will press his ears flat back against his head. From afar this looks like a flashing circle and other lions are warned to stay away. Many fights are avoided this way.

Scent Communication

Like many other animals, lions mark their territory with urine and feces to set boundaries. They also scrape the ground with their front and back paws, rubbing a substance on the ground from glands located in their paw pads. Lions also smell the uro-anal region of other members of their pride.

To read about a very special and famous lion
Click here.

To hear a lion's roar:

For pictures, see the following links:
http://www.lioncrusher.com/felidae/lion/reproduction.html (if you are feeling pornographic)